Alcohol is a legal substance that like no other contributes significantly to health and social harm when used inappropriately. As a public health issue, alcohol related harm includes chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and fetal alcohol effects, injury resulting from motor vehicle collisions, falls and assault, and social and emotional issues such as depression and strained family relationships. There is a growing body of evidence to support concerted public health efforts to reduce harms associated with alcohol use and to promote a culture of moderation.
Research tells us that:
Increased Availability=Increased Consumption=Increased Alcohol Related Harm.
It’s really that simple!
Healthy public policies with demonstrated effectiveness in reducing the harms associated with alcohol consumption by controlling access and availability of alcohol include:
- Alcohol taxation and other price controls
Alcohol has health and societal costs associated with it’s consumption that need to be considered in its’ pricing. Products that contain greater alcohol concentration (distilled spirits, high content wine coolers, beer) or products marketed to youth i.e. alcopops tend to carry with them a higher price in terms of alcohol related harms. Pricing needs to include not only cost of producing the product but the health and social cost of consuming the product. Increased pricing ultimately reduces demand and alcohol related harms.
- Regulate physical availability through restrictions on time, place, and density of alcohol outlets
Increased outlets and hours of operation increase alcohol access, availability, consumption and hence alcohol related harms. Privatized and semi privatized systems generate a greater number of locations and hours of service and tend to have less training around sales to underage youth. Government run systems such as the L.C.B.O., however provides for fewer locations and hours of service, yet provides a wide selection of products with greater staff training around sale of alcohol to underage youth.
- Alter the drinking context/environment
Server training programs that address dealing with aggressive and intoxicated patrons, increased enforcement of liquor license laws, legal liability of servers, managers and owners creates a more vigilant atmosphere and enforcement of rules which ultimately reduce over service and alcohol related harms.
- Drink –driving countermeasures
Random breath testing, lowered blood alcohol concentration limits, zero blood alcohol concentration levels for young drivers, sobriety checkpoints, graduated licensing and administrative license suspension have been shown to decrease the number of impaired drivers on the road with a resultant decrease in alcohol related motor vehicle collisions.
- Restrictions on Marketing
The multimedia world in which we live has greatly expanded the breadth and sophistication of alcohol marketing strategies. Research suggests that exposure of young people to alcohol marketing speeds up the onset of drinking and increases the amount consumed by those already drinking. Alcohol industry marketing tactics including use of social media only serve to normalize consumption of alcohol and connect it with positive lifestyle images.
Educational campaigns that involve social marketing, mass media and media literacy which includes; counter advertising can be effective but are costly and it is difficult to compete with a multi billion dollar industry that is selling aspirations of a positive lifestyle/image. School based programs that address resistance skills and normative education have been shown to be effective as students rather than believing that most of their peers drink alcohol; are provided with accurate data that reflects not “everyone” is doing it’ and in fact they are part of the majority, not the minority if they do not drink hazardously.
- Screening, treatment and early intervention services
Brief screening interventions with at risk drinkers has been shown to be highly effective however many health care practitioners lack training or time to institute them. Treatment services that are voluntary and incorporate community supports have also been shown to be effective.
Overall research tells us that population-level, alcohol policies that address price and availability are the most cost effective strategies to employ. It is imperative that we work collaboratively as a community in addressing the issues that lead to alcohol related harms in our community.