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The Cold Truth about Alcohol Availability

May 15, 2013
The Ontario Convenience Store Association (OCSA) continues to lobby for changes to the Liquor License Act that would allow the sale of beer and wine in convenience stores, despite the fact that most Ontarians do not want or need more access to alcohol. The threat of strike action by Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) employees has provided the OCSA with their latest tactic in an attempt to reopen this discussion.

The Ontario Convenience Store Association (OCSA) continues to lobby for changes to the Liquor License Act that would allow the sale of beer and wine in convenience stores, despite the fact that most Ontarians do not want or need more access to alcohol. The threat of strike action by Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) employees has provided the OCSA with their latest tactic in an attempt to reopen this discussion. 

Opposition to expanded alcohol sales in Ontario is strong, with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), and the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) leading the way, along with support from various health units, community stakeholders and public opinion surveys.

Moreover, evidence of the consequences of alcohol availability and consumption are clear. The World Health Organization identifies alcohol as the second most harmful risk factor for disease and disability in developed countries such as Canada, attributed to approximately 2.5 million deaths each year.

Drinking above the Low Risk Drinking Guidelines significantly increases the risk of disease and injury. In Ontario, alcohol consumption is causally related to more than 65 medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease and cancer, while also being a significant risk factor in injuries, from motor vehicle collisions to suicides. 

Many of these harms are not only incurred by the individual consuming alcohol, but are also felt by others in their family and community. This concept, known as second-hand effects of alcohol consumption, includes but is not limited to: violence, emotional abuse, impaired driving, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and impacts on workplaces and policing.

In Simcoe Muskoka, it is estimated that nearly 500 deaths occurred as a result of alcohol consumption between 2000 and 2007. In addition, there were more than 9,000 hospitalizations directly attributable to alcohol use between 2003 and 2009. This represents 3.5 per cent of all deaths in Simcoe Muskoka for those between the ages of 19 to 69, nearly double the number of deaths from infectious diseases among this age group during the same time frame.

While you may think of alcohol contributing huge revenues to the government, a comparison of direct alcohol-related revenue and costs in Ontario in 2002-03 revealed that costs actually outweighed revenues by more than $456 million.

Research shows that increased density of alcohol outlets and extended hours and days of sale are associated with increased consumption, and in turn, increased alcohol-related harms and increased costs to the government. In British Columbia and Alberta, switching to semi-privatized and privatized alcohol sales systems has led to increased alcohol-related harms in the form of violence, disease and even death – a direct result of increased access and availability.

For the health of the public it is important that we seek a culture of moderation regarding alcohol. Alcohol consumption has gradually increased over time in Simcoe Muskoka and across the province. Making alcohol more available would result in further increases in both consumption and impacts on health and beyond – taking us further from moderation.

For more information on alcohol-related harms and the negative impacts of increased alcohol availability, visit simcoemuskokahealth.org or call Your Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and speak with a public health nurse.

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Dr. Gardner is Simcoe Muskoka’s medical officer of health.


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