Alcohol regulation should be health-driven, not money-driven

At the end of summer 2016, Éduc’alcool expressed its concerns at the Quebec government’s apparent lack of interest in attending to alcohol regulation, as though alcohol were a product like any other.

This approach is found in its Regulatory and Administrative Streamlining Action Plan, which includes a series of measures on alcohol.

The government is not requiring owners and employees of licensed establishments to take the Service in Action course, a major prevention measure that Éduc’alcool has been urging them to adopt for 12 years.

The premiers of Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia announced their plan to implement measures to increase the flow of local wines among the three provinces. Quebec’s premier addressed the issue from an economic perspective alone, whereas his Ontario counterpart insisted on the importance of doing things in a “socially responsible way.” This speaks volumes as to their respective priorities.

All the recent public debate on this issue has followed the same pattern. We have completely overlooked the fact that alcohol is a psychotropic drug.

When we hear that the government’s dilemma is weighing the SAQ’s need to offer consumers alcohol at the lowest possible prices against preserving the level of dividends paid to the state, the degree of insensitivity is cause for concern.

The SAQ’s job is not to provide Quebecers with alcohol at the lowest possible price. We wouldn’t need a state-owned corporation for that. The private sector could handle it, although the situation in Alberta has shown that the thirst for profits is far stronger than what people wrongly refer to as “healthy competition.”

The SAQ is a market-control instrument. Minimum beer prices are another such tool. Licenses and conditions for selling alcohol are yet another. Regulations on marketing, promotion and advertising also play a role.

That is why the sale of alcohol must be properly regulated. We don’t need less regulation; we need better regulation: regulation that removes unnecessary constraints, but never loses sight of the fact that prevention and public health must be at the very heart of all alcohol-related decisions.

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