Top doc sounds alarm on alcohol rules

The Canadian Press
Nicole Thompson

Toronto’s top doctor is sounding the alarm on the province’s loosened booze rules, saying the regulations that make it easier to purchase and consume alcohol don’t take health repercussions into account.
A slew of recent measures from the Progressive Conservatives–including allowing alcohol to be served starting at 9 a.m. and plans to expand the sale of beer and wine to corner stores–will likely have a negative impact on public health and safety, Dr. Eileen de Villa wrote in a report adopted by the city’s board of health yesterday.
Increased access to alcohol leads to a spike in consumption and higher rates of alcohol-related harms, the medical officer of health wrote in her report, which called on the city to do what it could to make sure alcohol sales are expanded slowly.
“Alcohol is a depressant drug,” de Villa said in an interview.
“It affects thinking and it affects behaviour and it has a number of other effects on physiology.”
Her report claims, however, that the province doesn’t seem to be taking that into account.
“The province lacks a comprehensive strategy to address the health and social harms of alcohol use,” it reads.
“As such, the recently announced measures to increase access to alcohol can be expected to further increase health and social harms, in addition to economic costs related to health care and criminal justice.”
The report notes, for instance, that there is reason to believe that allowing bars to stay open later–which the province is consulting on–has negative effects.
“Later closing times are associated with heavy drinking and acute harms, including violence and injury,” the report reads.
“There are also implications for public nuisance issues such as noise, public intoxication, and other crowd-related issues.”
De Villa recommended that municipal public health units work with the province to develop an Ontario-wide strategy to reduce negative effects.
Now that the report has been adopted by the city’s board of health, de Villa said she’ll follow up with the city manager to make sure the issue is studied further.
The report will also land on the desk of Rod Phillips, who was recently promoted into the role of finance minister.
A spokeswoman for Phillips declined to provide comment, but his ministry said in a written statement that “the safe, responsible sale and consumption of alcohol in Ontario” has been and will continue to be a top priority for the government.
“We want to ensure any proposed improvements would uphold the safety and health of our children and youth, our communities, and our roads,” ministry spokesman Marc Pichette wrote.
The government announced many of its changes to alcohol rules in its April budget.
In addition to increased hours of service and plans to expand where beer and wine can be sold, it is also letting municipalities establish rules about where booze can be consumed in public, such as in some parks, and allowing tailgating parties near sports events across the province.
Meanwhile, casinos will be allowed to advertise free alcohol to “level the playing field” with American competitors, and the province will loosen rules to allow licensed establishments to advertise “happy hour” promotions.
Earlier this year, a group of researchers also raised concerns about the changes to alcohol policy, saying the relaxed rules would lead to more consumption that can bring an increase in crime, hospitalizations and even death.
That warning came in a report from Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research.