UVic-led project offers steps to repair Canada’s failing alcohol policy

CISUR director and lead of the CAPE project, Dr. Tim Naimi. Credit: Darren Stone
CISUR director and lead of the CAPE project, Dr. Tim Naimi. Credit: Darren Stone

A University of Victoria-led project on Wednesday revealed worsening alcohol policy grades across the country and proposed detailed steps to get Canada back on track.

News of alcohol’s harms and costs has dominated headlines post-COVID. The Canadian Alcohol Policy Evaluation (CAPE) Project , led by UVic’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) , brought together researchers from institutions across Canada to evaluate alcohol control policies federally and in all 13 provinces and territories. Today, they release their results alongside evidence-based solutions to improve health and well-being.

This is about more than asking individuals to consider cutting down on their drinking. Yes, that can be important, but governments need to make changes to the broader drinking environment. CAPE offers a scientific evaluation of where our governments are at in terms of health-oriented alcohol policy, while also giving the tools they need to improve.

-Dr. Tim Naimi, CISUR director and lead of the CAPE Project

While the project offers a less than rosy picture of where government alcohol policy sits today, it comes with solutions. CAPE has prepared a detailed report card for each of the provinces and territories and the federal government, which shows them how they are faring in 11 different policy domains including pricing and taxation, physical availability, control system, marketing and advertising, health and safety messaging and more. It offers tailored recommendations for how they can improve their scores and strengthen their policies in support of public health.

-Some of these recommendations include creating minimum prices tied to alcohol content and indexed to inflation, moving the oversight of alcohol regulation and sales to a government ministry focused on health or safety rather than finance, reducing hours of sale, mandating warning labels for alcohol containers or officially endorsing the new Canadian Guidance on Alcohol and Health,- explains Naimi. -Governments could also develop an alcohol strategy on a provincial or territorial level or create a federal Alcohol Act.-

Many of these strong policies are in place in some parts of Canada today. If governments were to implement the best existing policies consistently across Canada’s provinces and territories, they could score 80 per cent or an A-.

This is the CAPE Project’s third evaluation of alcohol policy across Canada’s provincial, territorial and federal governments-and the results aren-t great. Every single jurisdiction got an overall failing grade, with the lowest scoring jurisdiction, Northwest Territories, only getting 32%. The highest-scoring jurisdictions-Manitoba and Quebec-only scored 44% and 42%, respectively. The federal government’s score was just 37%.

-This reflects -red tape reduction-, -modernizing- initiatives and other erosions of public-health-focused alcohol policies we have seen in recent years,- says Naimi. -We were starting to see it ramp up when we released our last evaluation in 2019, and during the COVID-19 pandemic we have only seen it get worse.-

The CAPE Project is a collaborative project involving researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Western University, St Francis Xavier University, Dalhousie University, and the Canadian Institute for Health Information. The institutions worked together to create the evidence-based scoring rubric, collect relevant policy data from across the country, and score the individual provincial, territorial and federal governments on how they fared across the 11 different policy domains. The project also relied on stakeholders within the government to validate the data and ensure its accuracy.

-This was a massive, scientifically rigorous project that could only be achieved via these strong partnerships with institutions and governments across Canada,- says Norman Giesbrecht, scientist emeritus at CAMH’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research who has been a key part of CAPE since its first iteration. -We are grateful to be able to do this evaluation for a third time and build on the excellent work that began with the first CAPE in 2011.

alcoholpolicy.cisur.ca.

A media kit containing infographics detailing overall provincial, territorial and federal scores, details and recommendations by provincial, territorial and federal governments is available via Dropbox.

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