“OPA!” Will BC’s Liquor Policy Review Inspire Mediterranean Attitudes?

Having grown up in a Greek family, I regularly enjoy a glass of wine…or two with dinner or a little mezethes. Having grown up in BC, in my youth there were occasions when I drank to excess but drew the line at drinking and driving.  This cross-cultural experience highlights some of the tensions that exist in the BC Liquor Policy Review.

In an attempt to modernize BC’s liquor laws, Parliamentary Secretary, John Yap will have to wrangle with questions such as:  What is moderation? What is risky drinking? How does the province balance personal responsibility with social responsibility and protect British Columbians from potential harms and costs that come with excessive drinking?
The BC Healthy Living Alliance met with Parliamentary Secretary, John Yap this week to discuss the issue in relationship to chronic disease and how current health evidence might inform policy directions.

The WHO ranks alcohol as the #2 risk factor for chronic disease, right after tobacco.  And interestingly, when you look at policy approaches that support a moderate alcohol culture, the evidence points to many of the lessons learned through tobacco control.  As BC decreases the use of tobacco through effective health promotion policies, alcohol’s potential burden on chronic disease is projected to become equal or greater than tobacco’s.

Speaking of moderation, I notice some of the folks who want to see a more open approach to alcohol have been quick to throw up the labels of puritan and prohibitionist to anyone who has a counter-point.  But I don’t think that’s fair.  At BCHLA we have suggested that more could be done to promote the low risk drinking guidelines.  These are based on health evidence and are reasonable even for a BC gal like me who enjoys a cold one on a hot summer day.

The guidelines allow a woman to drink 1-2 standard drinks per day but less than 10 in a week, men are recommended to drink no more than 3 drinks per day and less than 15 in a week.  This is moderation.  Unfortunately, in Canada the majority of alcohol is consumed over and above these guidelines and this increases risk for numerous chronic diseases like breast cancer.

BCHLA’s submission emphasizes that access and pricing are the key factors that mitigate or contribute to drinking rates.  In fact, the Provincial Health Officer indicates that a 10% increase in price correlates to a 5% reduction in drinking, including for problem drinkers, but is especially effective with youth. And like, tobacco having loads of places to buy the product results in higher use which is why we suggest maintaining the moratorium on private liquor stores.

While British Columbians may romanticize the imagery of European-style beachside picnics topped off with a glass of pinot noir (nobody romanticizes retsina), the truth is public drinking in BC may end up looking more English than French.  I’m thinking of the parallels between footie and Canuck fans.

Having lived in Greece and visited my family there many times, I would say ‘yes’, there is a moderate wine and beer drinking culture. But honestly, my Greek relatives tend to drink on their patios and at the tavernas (like we do) and not so much on the beach.  In BC our attitudes to drinking and driving have saved hundreds of lives and that is a culture we should both celebrate and build upon.

Rita Koutsodimos
Manager, Advocacy & Communications
September 2013

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