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Does economic gain trump health when it comes to alcohol sales?

Feb 24, 2016
We appreciate the actions of government to support local industries, and to stimulate the economy in challenging times. But a troublesome area of expansion is the alcohol industry, as new policies permit wider and easier access to alcohol products.

We appreciate the actions of government to support local industries, and to stimulate the economy in challenging times. But a troublesome area of expansion is the alcohol industry, as new policies permit wider and easier access to alcohol products.

We know that approximately 80 per cent of Canadians drink, and Ontario, Simcoe and Muskoka are no exception to the national average. Alcohol is tied into many aspects of our culture, to celebrations, friendship, sporting events or just relaxing.

We also know that hundreds of thousands of Ontarians will engage in drinking episodes that put them at risk for immediate harm. Impaired driving, injuries, emotional abuse, aggression, crime and violence: all correlate with excess consumption. Beyond those events, there are many more people who habitually drink at levels that compound their risk for a range of chronic diseases, such as liver cirrhosis and various forms of cancer. Research suggests that as little as one drink per day may increase risk for some cancers, including breast cancer.    

By contrast, the limited benefits from low to moderate alcohol consumption in relation to heart health have been widely touted. However, recent research questions these health benefits, and Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer’s new report on alcohol and health reminds us that there are many ways to seek improved heart health that don’t come with the health risks of alcohol.  

Meanwhile, the alcohol industry continues to be stimulated. Craft beers, music festivals, local wineries, wine at farmer’s markets – all these areas continue to grow in Ontario and in Simcoe Muskoka, in no small part due to an ongoing revision of our alcohol distribution system. While these segments remain relatively small parts of the overall alcohol industry, their rapid expansion illustrates how alcohol is becoming more widely available.  Evidence clearly indicates that wherever increased access to alcohol occurs, people consume more, and in turn there is a rising toll to our health and our health-care system.

Alcohol will continue to be a part of our society, and abstinence is not realistic nor required. But we do know that there are significant costs attached to the use of alcohol as an economic driver - costs that have been estimated to exceed revenues. We commend the provincial government for their recent announcement of a new provincial alcohol policy, now under development to help reduce alcohol-related harms. We hope there will be meaningful measures taken to place the health of Simcoe and Muskoka residents, and all Ontarians, as a top priority.  

Dr. Lisa Simon is one of Simcoe Muskoka’s associate medical officers of health.

 


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