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Date: August 07, 2013

BC leads, and lags, on alcohol-related policies

British Columbia is a leader among Canadian provinces on policies aimed at reducing alcohol-related harms and costs, but lags at the bottom in two of the most important policy categories and has considerable room to improve overall, research from the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research (CARBC) shows.

The report Reducing Alcohol-Related Harms and Costs in British Columbia, released today just as the province announced it will undertake a major review of liquor licensing laws this fall, compares the 10 provinces in 10 policy dimensions deemed most effective in achieving public health and safety benefits. The research highlights current policy strengths in BC and offers recommendations to turn unrealized potential into actual gains.

While BC ranks second overall behind Ontario, as well as first in five categories and second in two others, it is also ninth and 10th in the two most important policy categories—pricing and regulatory controls. The province’s overall score of 53 per cent of the ideal score also indicates there are substantial opportunities for BC and all provinces to take further action.

“Our study shows that BC is doing many things right, but could be doing much, much better,” says Kara Thompson, a psychology doctoral candidate who co-authored the report while working with CARBC director Tim Stockwell. “The fact that we are at or near the bottom in the two more important policy areas is significant. That is where the province can and should be focusing attention to achieve the most impact to reduce alcohol-related harms and costs.”

Specific measures suggested for BC to address its weakness in pricing and regulatory control policies include: increase minimum prices to $1.50 per standard drink; adjust alcohol prices to keep pace with inflation; place restrictions on discounted alcohol sold below minimum price; adjust prices for alcohol content to make higher strength products more expensive; reduce access to alcohol through channels such as online sales or delivery services; and increase spending on social responsibility messaging.

“The provincial government’s plan to review liquor licensing is timely and necessary,” says Thompson. “What we’ve shown in highlighting these strengths and weakness in alcohol policies is that there is still considerable room to do more, especially in the areas of pricing and control. Implementing these recommendations would be a significant leap toward improving the balance between public access and better protecting public health.”

The CARBC comparison of BC alcohol policies with those of other provinces uses results from a comprehensive national study funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and builds on a model implemented by MADD Canada. The national study was led by Dr. Norman Giesbrecht of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Ontario in collaboration with a Canada-wide network of alcohol and health experts from CARBC and other agencies.

The 10 policy dimensions included in the assessment are based on rigorous systematic reviews of the effectiveness of alcohol-prevention efforts.

While ranking first in policy dimension on drinking and driving, marketing and advertising, legal drinking age and server training, BC is also the only province to earn a perfect score in any category, which it achieved for its policies on screening, referrals and brief interventions. BC also ranked second for the physical availability of alcohol and for its provincial alcohol strategy, which is embedded in its 10-year plan for mental health and substance use.

Thompson notes that despite those highlights, alcohol consumption in BC has been above the national average for the past decade, and both consumption levels and the rate of hospitalizations for alcohol-related conditions have increased since 2002. And with BC ranked second while achieving just 53 per cent of the ideal score, it’s clear even those provinces leading the way have a lot more work to do, she says.

Some other recommendations for improvement in BC’s alcohol-related policies include: reducing hours for on- and off-premise establishments; implementing remaining drinking and driving countermeasures recommended by MADD Canada; restricting quantity of alcohol advertisements; consideration of increasing legal drinking age to 21; improving server training; developing an alcohol-specific provincial strategy; and implementing mandatory warning labels on alcoholic beverage packaging.

The full CARBC report is available online.

Media contacts:

Kara Thompson (CARBC) at 250-853-3238 or murrayk@uvic.ca

Denise Helm (UVic Communications) at 250-721-7656 or dhelm@uvic.ca

Mitch Wright (UVic Communications) at 250-721-6139 or mwwright@uvic.ca

Norman Giesbrecht (CAMH) at 416-535-8501 ext. 6895 or norman.giesbrecht@camh.ca

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