Government options to reduce the impact of alcohol on human health: Obstacles to effective policy implementation




Stockwell, Tim
Giesbrecht, Norman
Vallance, Kate
Wettlaufer, Ashley

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Evidence for effective government policies to reduce exposure to alcohol’s carcinogenic and hepatoxic effects has strengthened in recent decades. Policies with the strongest evidence involve reducing the affordability, availability and cultural acceptability of alcohol. However, policies that reduce population consumption compete with powerful commercial vested interests. This paper draws on the Canadian Alcohol Policy Evaluation (CAPE), a formal assessment of effective government action on alcohol across Canadian jurisdictions. It also draws on alcohol policy case studies elsewhere involving attempts to introduce minimum unit pricing and cancer warning labels on alcohol containers. Canadian governments collectively received a failing grade (F) for alcohol policy implementation during the most recent CAPE assessment in 2017. However, had the best practices observed in any one jurisdiction been implemented consistently, Canada would have received an A grade. Resistance to effective alcohol policies is due to (1) lack of public awareness of both need and effectiveness, (2) a lack of government regulatory mechanisms to implement effective policies, (3) alcohol industry lobbying, and (4) a failure from the public health community to promote specific and feasible actions as opposed to general principles, e.g., ‘increased prices’ or ‘reduced affordability’. There is enormous untapped potential in most countries for the implementation of proven strategies to reduce alcohol-related harm. While alcohol policies have weakened in many countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, societies may now also be more accepting of public health-inspired policies with proven effectiveness and potential economic benefits.



alcohol, policy, public health, alcohol industry, Canada


Stockwell, T., Giesbrecht, N., Vallance, K., & Wettlaufer, A. (2021). “Government options to reduce the impact of alcohol on human health: Obstacles to effective policy implementation.” Nutrients, 13(8), 2846.