Canada’s got a drinking problem — and one senator says Ottawa needs to step up

Canada’s got a drinking problem — and one senator says Ottawa needs to step up

The federal authorities pitched a sizeable improve to the alcohol excise tax earlier this 12 months — solely to stroll again that dedication in response to backlash from some MPs, foyer teams and cost-conscious Canadian drinkers.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s price range saved the annual tax improve a lot decrease than inflation — it’ll develop by simply 2 per cent this 12 months — after a well-organized letter-writing marketing campaign satisfied the federal government that the political repercussions of such a hike weren’t well worth the comparatively modest income bump.

There was related blowback when the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Habit (CCSA) not too long ago issued new ingesting pointers that claimed no quantity of alcohol is protected.

The advice prompted derision from some who mentioned the well being professionals behind the analysis are fun-averse teetotalers bent on needlessly worrying individuals concerning the dangers of wine, beer and spirits. The federal government-funded knowledge nonetheless hasn’t been posted publicly by Well being Canada.

These incidents reveal simply how deeply entrenched alcohol is in Canadian life — and the way reluctant the federal government is to crack down on ingesting.

“You understand, alcohol is the favorite substance of many policymakers and certainly for lots of us. It has form of an iconic cultural standing. Politicians — they don’t need to do a lot about it,” mentioned Dr. Tim Naimi, the director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Analysis on the College of Victoria.

“It’s the main reason for preventable dying in Canada. It’s the federal government’s job to guard Canadians from the large harms attributable to alcohol. For some motive, they really feel threatened by the information.”

No less than one politician desires to do one thing to curb consumption.

Quebec Sen. Patrick Brazeau is a recovering alcoholic. His struggles with dependancy have been well-documented.

Sober for 3 years, Brazeau now desires different Canadians to keep away from the doubtless life-altering results of alcohol abuse.

“When you had instructed me 10 years in the past I’d be sober and introducing a invoice to label alcohol merchandise, I might’ve instructed you you’re loopy,” Brazeau instructed CBC Information. “I used to be ingesting means an excessive amount of as a result of I used to be hurting inside. I used to be attempting to kill the ache.”

Sen. Patrick Brazeau has launched Invoice S-254, which might mandate well being labels on all alcohol bottles. (Olivier Hyland/CBC Information)

Brazeau mentioned alcohol is the one identified carcinogen that comes with out warning labels.

He’s launched Invoice S-254, which might mandate well being labels on all alcohol bottles alerting shoppers to the potential for most cancers.

Tobacco, vape and hashish packages are already plastered with dire warnings, he mentioned, and alcohol shouldn’t get a cross.

“There’s nonetheless numerous taboo round alcohol — it’s so extensively accepted in our society,” he mentioned.

“However alcohol shouldn’t be good for us and we’ve to cease pretending that it’s. [It] doesn’t appear there are too many individuals on Parliament Hill, elected officers, who’re keen to take the bull by the horns and do one thing.”

In keeping with knowledge collected by Naimi’s institute, about 25 per cent of Canadian drinkers do not know that alcohol may cause seven deadly cancers.

Different jurisdictions have tried to publicize these dangers.

Dozens of nations around the globe, together with the U.S., already require well being labels.

Alcohol bottles with warning labels are pictured at a store in Whitehorse, Yukon.
Liquor labels, together with one warning that alcohol may cause most cancers, had been positioned on alcohol containers at a retailer in Yukon by researchers. (Provided by Canadian Institute for Substance Use Analysis)

Researchers in Yukon positioned warnings on liquor bottles in 2017.

The outcomes had been rapid — gross sales dropped by 6.6 per cent at a Whitehorse retailer as extra shoppers noticed the prominently positioned crimson labels. The mission was scrapped amid stress from some trade teams.

A spokesperson for Spirits Canada, a foyer group that represents the distilled spirits trade, didn’t reply to a request for touch upon Brazeau’s invoice. Beer Canada has mentioned the trade can regulate itself.

A money cow for governments

Governments rely upon liquor gross sales to generate billions of {dollars} in income to fund public applications.

The federal and provincial governments earned an eye-popping $13.6 billion from alcohol gross sales in 2021-22, based on Statistics Canada.

Drinkers — about 76 per cent of all Canadians eat alcohol in a given 12 months — are understandably reluctant to pay extra for a product that, statistics present, many repeatedly get pleasure from.

Some drinkers additionally bristle on the suggestion that reasonable consumption is an issue, and defend alcohol as one among life’s little pleasures.

Whereas a lot consideration has been paid to the continuing opioid epidemic — a tragic well being occasion that has claimed the lives of hundreds of Canadian drug customers — publicly obtainable knowledge reveals there’s a parallel disaster underway.

A man is seen holding a can of corn.
Dr. Tim Naimi, the director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Analysis on the College of Victoria, holds a can of corn. He says meals packages comprise dietary data and alcohol bottles needs to be no completely different. (Michael Mcarthur/CBC Information)

“The opioid epidemic is an enormous public well being drawback, however we’ve a really significant issue with alcohol, too,” mentioned Naimi.

“It’s simply that alcohol has been with us for a very long time. We’ve primarily realized to dwell with a excessive price of issues from many, a few years.”

Canada recorded 3,875 alcohol-induced deaths in 2021, based on the newest knowledge from Statistics Canada — a 21 per cent improve over 2019 that doubtless was pushed by a pandemic-related spike in consumption.

Different Canadian analysis suggests alcohol is much more lethal than these numbers recommend.

A peer-reviewed research printed by the Public Well being Company of Canada suggests alcohol consumption in Canada is related to roughly 15,000 preventable deaths (together with 7,000 most cancers deaths) and 90,000 preventable hospital admissions yearly.

(Preventable deaths from alcohol are outlined as alcohol-related cancers, heart problems, liver illness, unintentional accidents and violence.)

These numbers carefully observe what’s been reported within the U.S., a rustic with a inhabitants nearly ten occasions that of Canada. The US studies about 140,000 alcohol-related deaths annually.

Whereas the federal government has rolled out a set of coverage measures to curb opioid-related deaths — there are extra safe-consumption websites now and naloxone kits are ubiquitous — it’s mentioned comparatively little about what might be performed to cut back alcohol-related dying and illness.

Information exhibits that about 20 per cent of Canadians reported alcohol consumption that categorised them as “heavy drinkers,” based on Statistics Canada.

The numbers are increased in Newfoundland and Labrador (27.7 per cent) and Quebec (21.2 per cent) and decrease in Manitoba (16 per cent) and Ontario (17.3 per cent).

A person's purchases are seen in a shopping cart at a government-run liquor store in Vancouver.
A pandemic-driven increase in alcohol-related deaths and illness has prompted well being advocates to name for warning labels on alcohol bottles. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Over the previous decade, about 600,000 Canadians have grow to be bodily depending on alcohol — a situation that may result in accidents, violence, alcohol poisoning, dangerous sexual behaviour, coronary heart illness, stroke, liver illness, most cancers and psychological well being issues.

Whereas alcohol is a money cow for all ranges of presidency, researchers say that revenue is dwarfed by different prices.

The provincially owned Liquor Management Board of Ontario (LCBO), the world’s largest alcohol importer, generated an annual dividend of roughly $2.4 billion in 2020-21.

I’ve 26 years left within the Senate so I’m in it for the lengthy haul.– Sen. Patrick Brazeau

By comparability, the collective impression of alcohol use on well being care, crime and misplaced productiveness has been pegged at an estimated $22.4 billion a 12 months — a determine increased than the prices of tobacco use and the prices of all different psychoactive substances mixed, together with opioids and hashish — based on analysis by Naimi’s institute in Victoria.

“It is a massive ticket merchandise. Taxpayers are footing the invoice for what quantities to … a subsidy on alcohol and heavy ingesting particularly,” Naimi mentioned.

A spokesperson for federal Psychological Well being and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett mentioned the federal government will “proceed to watch” Brazeau’s invoice because it makes its means via Parliament.

As for the cost that it hasn’t performed sufficient to curb drawback ingesting, the spokesperson mentioned “alcohol use is a critical and complicated public well being and security situation.”

Authorities received’t assist invoice, Brazeau says

The federal government is investing in applications to forestall alcohol use throughout being pregnant, funding substance use and dependancy assist applications, limiting alcohol content material in some drinks and financing analysis, the spokesperson mentioned.

Brazeau is aware of he’s going through an uphill battle.

In a gathering with Bennett, the minister instructed Brazeau the federal government doubtless received’t assist his invoice, he mentioned.

He’s additionally routinely approached by lobbyists who’re intent on killing the laws, he added.

Brazeau mentioned he’s getting some assist from different senators to push the laws to committee — however he’s not naive concerning the challenges that lay forward in taking up such a well-liked vice.

“I’ve 26 years left within the Senate so I’m in it for the lengthy haul,” he mentioned.

Referring again to his now notorious boxing match with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Brazeau mentioned, “I’m not afraid of getting in a struggle or getting knocked round.”

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