Toronto: Fears about Rising Alcohol Harm due to Provincial Deregulation
Toronto Public Health fears alcohol harm will rise due to provincial deregulation, increasing availability of alcohol.
The Toronto Board of Health adopted recommendations made by the city’s medical officer of health to review how the changes would affect Toronto and to “determine appropriate actions,” as well as a request that the provincial Ministry of Finance include Toronto Public Health in its consultations to reduce the social risks of greater alcohol access.
In the April budget, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government announced it would:
- allow tailgating at sporting events (including on postsecondary campuses)
- let municipalities allow alcohol in designated public spaces (including parks)
- increase hours of service for alcohol, among other changes
These would weaken alcohol control in Toronto and thus Toronto Public Health is concerned that it likely will increase consumption and alcohol harm.
Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, called on the Ministry of Finance to include Toronto Public Health in its consultations on how to reduce the social costs related to greater availability of alcohol.
Alcohol harm in Canada
According to data from the Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms project,
- In 2014 there were an estimated 14,800 deaths related to alcohol use in Canada, the highest for substance use apart from tobacco.
- In Ontario the same year, there were 5,100 deaths from alcohol.
Research has also shown that extending hours for alcohol sales is related to an increase in related harms. A 2007 study in Ontario found that there was an increase in injuries such as falls and assaults when alcohol trade hours were extended from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Toronto medical officer of health warns deregulation will increase alcohol harm
Increased availability of 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.
The province lacks a comprehensive strategy to address the health and social harms of alcohol use. 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,” wrote Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, as per CTV News.
The report also notes other measures which can increase alcohol harm.
Later closing times are associated with heavy [alcohol use] and acute harms, including violence and injury,” wrote wrote Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, as per CTV News.
There are also implications for public nuisance issues such as noise, public intoxication, and other crowd-related issues.”
Toronto’s top doctor is not the only one who has warned deregulation can have negative consequences on public health.
A report from Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, earlier in the year raised concerns about the changes to alcohol policy. That report stated the relaxed rules would lead to more consumption that can bring an increase in crime, hospitalizations and even death.
When it comes to alcohol distribution, public policy needs to be guided by evidence, and research and best practices, not buck-a-beer slogans,” said Joe Cressy, City Councillor and Chair of the Health Board, as per CBC.
When you make rash decisions around alcohol distribution on the basis of slogans you end up getting bad health results.“