The NHL playoff season is in full swing and so, too are its accompanying beer commercials.
From a young age, these ads tell us alcohol is synonymous with good times. A right of passage. This is all despite the serious health risks the substance poses.
Three million people died because of harmful use of alcohol – representing one in 20 global deaths – in 2016, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“It’s time to step up action to prevent this serious threat to the development of healthy societies,” the director general of WHO said.
Which brings us to our provincial government’s obsession with promoting alcohol use.
Less than a year into office, our government has already brought a lot forward on alcohol, even appointing a new special advisor to review it. The infamous buck-a-beer has been followed up in the 2019 budget with plans to legalize tailgating as well as allow municipalities to legalize drinking in public spaces. Legal serving hours are also being extended.
Referring to the booze-friendly measures in the budget, finance minister Vic Fedeli called it treating “adults like adults.”
But goodness knows we cannot trust all adults to make healthy decisions when it comes to alcohol. MADD Canada shows 55.4 per cent of lives lost in fatal road crashes in 2014 tested positive for alcohol and/or other drugs, representing 1,273 people. Statistics Canada found in 2016, 19 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and over reported alcohol consumption which would classify them as heavy drinkers.
These dangers are why so much health awareness campaigning happens around alcohol and impaired driving. But these pro-alcohol measures the province is introducing undermine those.
It is bizarre that the government is spending so much effort promoting a substance that is a net negative to public health at a time it is trying to find cost savings in its health system. How did this make the list with all the different things Ontario Conservatives are trying to do with their first mandate in over a decade?
This also comes at a time when our country and province are still trying to figure out cannabis legalization. Although its woes may have been overblown in the short-term, navigating it in the long-term will have its challenges. If there is a right time to be trying to work on alcohol deregulation in isolation, this is not it.
These moves are flashy and might prove popular “for the people.” Our culture associates alcohol with good times and partying, something I am sure the government would like to piggyback onto. We are strangely permissive when it comes to alcohol compared to other drugs, which helps these kinds of changes pass with little pushback compared to something like cannabis.
This might also be a roundabout way of generating more revenue from alcohol taxes, even though a Liberal-planned alcohol tax increase was paused at the start of its term. Ontario generated over $1 billion in sales taxes off alcohol in 2016-17 according to Statistics Canada. More people drinking is more money for the province.
None of this is to say alcohol cannot be enjoyed responsibly. Like most things, there is nothing wrong with it in moderation. Alcohol can be part of a good time and that is fine.
But we should not turn a blind eye to the severity of its health risks. Our government is as guilty of that as our culture is. If the province does not want to limit people’s unhealthy choices, it becomes incumbent on all of us to try and do so.