Alcohol and smoking cause tens of thousands of deaths, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations annually in Ontario, Canada. A new report by Public Health Ontario reveals the burden of disease and injury linked to smoking and alcohol consumption.
The lack of comprehensive alcohol policies in Canada is leaving people, communities, and society unprotected from the health, social, and economic harm caused by alcohol.

Alcohol harm is a major part of the overall disease burden in Canada. And in Canadian provinces alcohol is causing a heavy tool. For example in Ontario, the products and practices of the alcohol industry are causing thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of hospitalizations, and hundreds of thousands of emergency department visits.

Ontario is a province in east-central Canada. It is Canada’s most populous province. Ontario is home to 38.3% of the Canada’s population. Both Ottawa, Canada’s capital, and Toronto, Canada’s largest city, are located in Ontario.

Ontario’s health system is currently overburdened, with many hospitals chronically operating above capacity. Patients are being treated in hallways and other non-conventional spaces, while emergency department wait times have been at record levels in recent months.

New findings on burden of alcohol use in Ontario

The new report “Burden of Health Conditions Attributable to Smoking and Alcohol” revealed detailed information on the prevalence and the extent of harm caused by tobacco and alcohol in the east-central province. The report provides estimations on the number of deaths, hospitalizations and emergency department visits which occurred due to alcohol.

The report was produced collaboratively by Public Health Ontario and Ontario Health. It intends to provide regional data to public health units and offer policy considerations to law makers to develop and support strategies to reduce per capita alcohol consumption, thereby reducing the harm caused by alcohol.

According to the key findings of the report, each year in Ontario, alcohol consumption causes:

  • Approximately 4,330 deaths, which include communicable diseases, motor vehicle collisions, cancer, cardiovascular disease and unintentional injuries related to alcohol consumption,
  • Another 22,009 hospitalizations, and
  • 194,692 emergency department visits.

These make up:

  • 4.3% of deaths, 
  • 2.1% of hospitalizations, and 
  • 3.7% of emergency department visits from all causes in people aged 15 years and above.

In Ottawa, Canada’s capital, alone, alcohol harm is substantial. Alcohol leads to:

  • An average of 264 local deaths,
  • An estimated 1,267 hospitalizations, and
  • More than 11,000 emergency room visits every year. 

The overall burden of disease caused by smoking and alcohol use is considerable,” wrote the authors of the report, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

Reducing smoking and alcohol use in Ontario has the potential to decrease the substantial burden of disease caused by these two substances.”

Authors of the report

According to the report, the number of people in Ottawa who has exceeded two alcoholic drinks in the past week is higher than the provincial average, indicating a high level of alcohol use in the city.

But solutions are available at all levels to promote health and protect people from alcohol harm.

At the local level for instance, the report explains that municipal alcohol policies and municipal bylaws “can help manage alcohol availability, which is important because physical availability of alcohol is linked to increased consumption.”

The real reason behind pervasive alcohol harm in Ontario

In Canada, alcohol policy is mainly the responsibility of the provinces and territories, rather than the central government. This has created a patchwork of local approaches to the alcohol burden, with a unified, comprehensive, and evidence-based national alcohol policy still lacking. Due to the persisting absence of a comprehensive national alcohol act or a national strategy, the alcohol industry is not effectively regulated in Canada causing a surge of severe alcohol problems – as indicated by the figures from Ontario, for instance.

The province of Ontario is one example of the consequences from poor public health policy at local, provincial and national levels. In their provincial alcohol policy making Ontario has long favored the profit interest of alcohol industry over the public’s interest in health and wellbeing

For example, “Buck-a-beer,” was one of the platforms of Premier Douglas Ford’s election campaign in Ontario in 2018, allowing the sale of beer for one dollar per can. But cheap and widely available alcohol is serious risk factor for disease, injury, and death.

The Ontario government has been continuously worsening existing alcohol policy measures to favor the alcohol industry. This approach is causing rising alcohol harm.

Alcohol harm in Canada

Alcohol is a major causal factor of disease, disability and premature deaths in Canada.

Alcohol is a major risk factor for a number of short-term health risks, such as: 

  • Injuries, 
  • Violence, and 
  • Alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol also leads to grave health consequences, such as:

  • Cancer, 
  • Liver disease, 
  • Heart disease, 
  • Stroke, 
  • Mental illness, and 
  • Alcohol dependence.

Evidence shows that alcohol harm is a much bigger problem in Canada than opioids, but the harm caused by alcohol companies receives much less political attention compared to opioids, for instance.

It is estimated that annually alcohol causes:

  • 18,000 deaths,
  • Costs of ca. $16.6 billion annually in
    • health care, 
    • lost productivity, 
    • criminal justice, and 
    • other direct costs.
$16.6 Billion
Costs due to alcohol harm
Annually, the producst and practices of the alcohol industry cause harm that costs Canadian society $16.6 billion.

Solutions and the way forward to better prevent and reduce alcohol harm in Canada

In contrast to Ontario, the Provincial Government of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada has launched their Alcohol Action Plan, in July 2022. This comprehensive action plan focuses on prevention of alcohol harm and promotion of a healthy way of life, treatment for alcohol problems, and limiting the availability of alcohol products and sales. The action plan encompasses the World Health Organization’s recommended SAFER alcohol policy blue print.

As an important step towards better preventing and reducing alcohol harm in Canada, Bill S-254, an Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (warning label on alcoholic beverages) was introduced by Patrick Brazeau, Senator of Canada, in November 2022.

Furthermore, a guidance report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction has presented new and improved national low-risk alcohol use guidelines, to help Canadians avoid risk of cancer, heart disease, and other health harms due to alcohol.

The authors of the Ontario report explain the importance of reducing alcohol affordability and availability, as per the Ottawa Citizen:

By reducing the prevalence of smoking and alcohol consumption, there is potential to reduce the burden of disease in Ontario, keeping the people in Ontario healthier and reducing overall health-care use and costs.” 

Authors of the report

Source Website: Public Health Ontario