Expert: Raise Alcohol Price To Help Pay COVID-19 Debt
Expert calls are echoing for federal and provincial governments in Canada to raise alcohol prices to help pay for COVID-19 debts.
Despite the lockdown Canadians continue to consume alcohol. It may even be more so than before as people are using alcohol as an unhealthy coping mechanism to deal with COVID-19 stress and anxiety and the loneliness and boredom of the stay-at-home period.
But alcohol is not a healthy way to cope with the current challenges. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been clear about this. In fact, alcohol consumption can have even worse consequences with the current pandemic. Alcohol is known to,
- harm physical and mental health of individuals,
- weaken the immune system and make people more susceptible to infections such as COVID-19,
- cause road traffic accidents, injuries and death due to driving under the influence of alcohol,
- fuel violence, specifically domestic and gender-based violence, and
- all of the above burdens healthcare systems, emergency services and law enforcement which are already strained due to the pandemic.
These are some of the reasons why the WHO has advised people to avoid alcohol or at least minimize alcohol use during the pandemic. the WHO has also recommended governments to limit alcohol availability.
While some areas such as Greenland and Cambridge Bay, Nunavut have banned alcohol due to its harm, most Canadian governments have made access to alcohol even easier by granting the alcohol industry essential status and allowing restaurants and liquor stores to deliver alcohol to homes.
Political leaders have taken these decisions, despite unimpeachable scientific evidence showing that easier access to alcohol means higher alcohol consumption and related harms.
Even before the pandemic alcohol was wreaking havoc in Canada.
- Alcohol deaths have been on the rise in the country with 75% of the substance related deaths in Canada linked to alcohol.
- A CISUR study in 2019 showed the $10.9 billion annual alcohol-related revenue recovered only three-quarters of the $14.6 billion in alcohol-related costs of policing, courts, jails, health-care and lost productivity.
In Canadian territories, that gap between alcohol costs and alcohol tax revenue skyrockets. For example, Nunavut is only getting $1.75 million in revenue, but faces an alcohol burden of overall harm costs of $43 million. Another example is Alberta where costs are more than double the revenue. Ontario pays out $1.4 billion more than it earns, and British Columbia’s alcohol harm costs exceed revenue by more than $300 million.
Public health experts have long been calling on the Canadian federal government to institute a comprehensive national alcohol control policy.
Public health policy to reduce harm and recover COVID-19 debt
Alcohol should be made to pay its way,” Tim Stockwell, Director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, said recently.
Mr Stockwell suggests a simple, effective solution: minimum unit pricing (MUP).
The MUP policy which sets a minimum price at which alcohol could be sold was first introduced in Scotland. Due to the success of the policy in Scotland many other jurisdictions including Wales, Northern Territory of Australia and Jersey have adopted a minimum price for alcohol to reduce alcohol consumption and resulting harm.
For Canada, Mr. Stockwell suggests MUP of $1.75 for a beer, regular pour of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
Another measure to reduce alcohol harm is alcohol taxation, with alcohol taxed for ethanol content. Both of these pricing measures will reduce affordability of alcohol and thus help prevent and reduce alcohol harm.
From an economic standpoint the benefits of implementing suggested pricing policies will be three-fold.
Governments would make a lot more money. Industry would make more. And all of us would be less likely to have (alcohol-related) injuries,” said Tim Stockwell, Director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, as per The Kingston Whig Standard.
The situation is urgent and the rewards are significant.
From a public health perspective, everything possible should be done to discourage consumption. Although many of us are using alcohol to self-medicate at a time of heightened stress and anxiety, the truth is it actually makes it worse
So why not do this now?” said Daphne Bramham, writer for The Kingston Whig Standard.