Are Canada’s alcohol regulations enough?

A recent article published in The Conversation, a non-profit media outlet that publishes news stories written by academics and researchers, calls for the need to establish a federal Alcohol Act to address the damage caused by excessive alcohol consumption. The author of the article, Tim Stockwell, the director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR), expresses concerns regarding alcohol continuously being ignored by Canadian policy makers.

Despite existing legislation and regulation of tobacco and cannabis sales, including marketing and labelling, no substantial changes have been made to alcohol policy in recent years. The results of new research studies suggest that the Canadian federal and provincial governments need to take action to decrease alcohol consumption, since the damage from drinking has now surpassed tobacco use. Data published by the Canadian Centre for Health Innovation (CIHI) shows that in 2017-2018, there were 249 alcohol-related hospitalizations in Canada every day per 100,000 people.

Moreover, in a recent Canadian Alcohol Policy Evaluation carried out by researchers at the University of Victoria earlier this year, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments were graded on policy efforts to reduce alcohol-related harms. The results of the study showed that both federal and provincial governments must do more to address alcohol-related harms in Canada, with both federal and provincial governments earning failing grades in the assessment (achieving 38% and 44%, respectively).

A report published by CIHI on harm-related economic costs of substance use from 2007-2014 demonstrated that alcohol has the highest associated costs of $14.6 billion, or 38.1%, of the total costs, with tobacco coming in second, contributing $12.0 billion or 31.2% of the total costs. Finally, opioids contributed $3.5 billion or 9.1% of the total costs. Moreover, recent data from CIHI shows that from 2017 to 2018, there were 249 alcoholrelated hospitalizations in Canada every day per 100,000 people, which has increased compared to 241 hospitalizations from 2015 to 2016.

Recent survey results also indicate that only one-third of Canadians are aware that alcohol has been classified as a Class 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization. According to Stockwell, the federal government has taken no action to inform consumers regarding cancer risks of alcohol, provide appropriate guidelines for drinking alcohol, or provide essential information which is normally required on food and drink products sold in Canada, such as calorie content, serving sizes and nutritional information.

In his recommendations, Stockwell proposes a national strategy to be developed independently from the interests of the alcohol industry to inform consumers about appropriate alcohol risks and harm reduction strategies. Moreover, the researcher has suggested that alcohol prices reflect its strength, and application of advertising codes to the new digital media.

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