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Booze worse than smokes

Two new studies say the federal and provincial governments must do more to reduce alcohol consumption after determining damages from drinking have surpassed tobacco use.

As part of the Canadian Alcohol Policy Evaluation project, researchers graded the federal, provincial and territorial governments on policy efforts to reduce alcohol-related harms.

Tim Stockwell, director with the University of Victoria's Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, said the federal government earned a 38 per cent grade while the provinces and territories collectively achieved 44 per cent.

Ontario scored the highest grade with a C, although Stockwell said it has "gone backwards" after Premier Doug Ford moved to lower the price of alcohol with his "buck-a-beer" legislation.

"We're used to people being disinterested in these policies but what's unusual with Ontario is that they're deliberately, and publicly, and with glee, and relish going in an opposite direction that will create more problems," he said.

"I guess that's populism for you, isn't it."

About 80 per cent of Canadians drink, and most enjoy a drink or two, so making alcohol cheaper is a quick, popular thing to do, he said.

But people forget there's a bill at the end of making alcohol cheap and readily available, Stockwell said, noting that some of the tragic consequences include death, economic costs, and more people with cancers and liver diseases.

"But that happens quietly in the background and claiming success in those areas doesn't get you elected as well it does giving people cheap beer," he said.

Norman Geisbrecht, a senior scientist at the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said while the impact of alcohol is more noticeable in accidents, behaviour and certain chronic diseases, there may also be an indirect impact on people's mental health.

Heavy drinking practices will have an impact on the workforce, absenteeism and affect performance at work because people may come in when they are hung over or semi-intoxicated, Geisbrecht said.

"If you make alcohol more widely available it becomes a challenge with regard to people who are maybe addicted or maybe in recovery," he said.

Tobacco comes with graphic warning images of "people dying in hospital beds," black teeth and diseased lungs, while there's a "whole slew of warning messages" about pregnancy, schizophrenia and impaired driving on cannabis packages, Stockwell said.

"With alcohol we get lovely images of rolling vineyards or images of people looking intoxicated, strange names of drinks that encourage intoxication — so the opposite of health information," he said. "There's an absence of health information."



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