Alcohol use in Ontario has $2.9 billion price tag: Study

CAMH report recommends raising drinking age to 21, ensuring booze prices keep pace with inflation

There is a $2.9 billion price tag attached to alcohol use in Ontario, according to a new report from the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

In Reducing Alcohol-Related Harms and Costs in Ontario: A Provincial Summary Report, Norman Giesbrecht, a senior scientist with CAMH, said there are ways to reduce the direct and indirect costs.

"While there are policy measures in place, there is still work to be done in various areas, such as alcohol pricing and advertising in order to address drinking behaviours that can be harmful," said Giesbrecht. "For instance, we know that more than 75 per cent of Ontarians consume alcohol, and that approximately 22 per cent of Ontarians drink above the recommended drinking guidelines."

The report recommends 10 policy changes Giesbrecht says can make a difference:

•Adjusting alcohol prices to keep pace with inflation, preventing alcohol prices from becoming cheaper relative to other goods over time.

•Maintain government run monopolies which regulate access to alcohol by maintaining effective alcohol control strategies such as enforcement of the legal drinking age, the regulation of pricing, and hours and days of sale.

•Consider increasing the minimum legal drinking age to 21 years of age.

•Limiting the availability of alcohol by reducing the hours of operation, starting with LCBO licensed agency stores in smaller rural communities.

•Strengthening drinking and driving regulations by lengthening license suspension periods, particularly for repeat offenders, and impounding vehicles during suspension.

•Prohibiting the advertisement of price or sales incentives by all alcohol retailers and tightening restrictions on sponsorship, specifically those targeting youth and young adults.

•Ontario is encouraged to support a consistent physician screening, referral and brief intervention protocol by implementing a fee for service code that is specific to these activities.

•The Smart Serve Responsible Beverage Service program is encouraged to incorporate scenario-based activities into its training program and to require periodic retraining.

•Implement mandatory alcohol warning labels on alcohol packaging that include topics relevant to alcohol use such as drinking and driving, the risks of underage drinking, and chronic diseases.

•Develop a provincial alcohol strategy that emphasizes alcohol specific policies and interventions that have been recommended by the World Health Organization.

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