Expanding booze sales leaves Health Unit with a bad taste
Ontario wants to start selling alcohol in grocery stores, Northern Life. Ca reports that by Christmas, it is expected 450 Ontario grocery stores will be selling six packs. What is your take on this?
Report highlights health risks as Ontario expands alcohol sales to grocery stores
Ontario wants to start selling alcohol in grocery stores, and, perhaps predictably, the Sudbury and District Health Unit (SDHU) thinks it’s a bad idea.
By Christmas, it is expected 450 Ontario grocery stores will be selling six packs. It’s taking a little longer to get wine onto the shelves though, so vino won’t be appearing on grocers’ shelves before the new year.
Ontario announced the liberalization of retail alcohol rules back in April.
At its board meeting last week, the Sudbury and District Health Unit prepared a report on the health and social risks associated with drinking.
“Making people aware of those risks is our No. 1 priority,” said Brenda Stankiewicz, a public health nurse with the health unit and one of the report’s authors.
Stankiewicz said most people are aware of the dangers associated with drinking and driving, but some other risks associated with alcohol are less well known.
The health unit found that only 49 per cent of adults in Greater Sudbury were aware of the increased risk of cancer with the daily consumption of alcohol.
In 2010, around two per cent of new cancer cases could be attributed to alcohol, but adjusting for the underestimation of alcohol consumption, that number increases to up to four per cent of cancer cases.
Cancers linked to alcohol consumption are most often those that affect the upper digestive tract, including oral, pharyngeal and laryngeal cancers.
Alcohol consumption is also causally linked to heart disease and stroke, depression, diabetes, liver stomach disease and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Stankiewicz said people sometimes don’t believe her when she informs them about some of the health problems tied to alcohol.
“I’ve had people question me,” she said.
And in Sudbury, drinking rates are higher than in the rest of the province.
Eighty-four per cent of adults, ages 19 or over, reported consuming alcohol in the past year, compared to 78 per cents of adults in Ontario.
Around 49 per cent of adults in Greater Sudbury and the surrounding district reported heavy drinking on at least one occasion in the past year. The health unit defines heavy drinking as consuming five or more alcoholic beverages at one time.
Canada’s low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines, established by the National Alcohol Strategy Advisory Committee, recommend an average woman should not have more than two drinks per day, and not exceed 10 per week, while an average man should limit himself to three drinks per day, and not have more than 15 drinks in a week.
In addition to its toll on health, alcohol consumption also comes with a high cost to the public purse, says the health unit.
Each year, alcohol consumption costs the province an estimated $5.3 billion in direct and indirect costs, including health care costs and lost productivity.
But Stankiewicz said the social toll from alcohol abuse, including drinking and driving deaths and domestic violence, brings the costs much higher.
In 2010/2011, the sale of alcohol across all provinces and territories generated $5.8 billion in government revenue.
Ontario announced in April it hopes to increase its take from alcohol sales by expanding the sale of beer to up to 450 Ontario grocery stores.
The Sudbury and District Health Unit opposed the decision in an open letter to the provincial government.
“Our chief concerns lie in the demonstrated relationship between alcohol consumption and availability, which means that we will not typically favour strategies that are based on expansion, including increases in the number of outlets or diversification of available channels,” wrote Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, the health unit’s medical officer of health.