Alcohol – convenience versus health

14492320514_d775d342f2_oOntario has recently moved toward more liberal access to alcohol. Under some pressure and economic advice to revise the industry, the province has announced it will bring the sale of beer into grocery stores, with the potential for wine to follow.

Of course, this may be popular to some. Yet, it runs counter to a trend in policies that reinforce good health. We only need to look at our society’s progress on seat belts, or impaired driving, or smoking in public spaces, to be aware of how laws can positively impact our health and safety.  When it comes to alcohol, it seems we are moving backwards.

In part, this is because our society regards drinking as normal, and socially acceptable. Yet, alcohol is known to be the second largest cause of death and disease in high income countries like Canada. Alcohol-related illness can be experienced even by those who drink small amounts. As little as one drink a day can increase the risk for developing certain types of cancer. As well, the negative impacts of alcohol can affect entire communities, through issues such as violence.

Recent legal changes in alcohol availability in Ontario have focused on convenience and economics, without sufficiently considering impacts to public health and public good:

  • In 2011, the Liquor Licence Act was modified to allow wider alcohol availability
  • In 2014, changes were made to allow the selling of wine at farmer’s markets 
  • The latest announcement that beer will be sold in grocery stores 

Where similar choices to broaden availability have been made in other provinces or countries, consumption has risen significantly, resulting in heightened costs in dollars, illness, injuries, and lives. None of us want to see similar results in Ontario.

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Dr. Lisa Simon is an Associate Medical Officer of Health at Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit

Photo by:  Jeff Samsonow, Flickr (no changes), some rights reserved.

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