Letter to the Editor: 
Colleen Anne Dell and Peter Butt — Dec. 29, 2012

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There has been a great deal of attention to alcohol in Saskatchewan over the past month. With the holidays upon us, perhaps now is a good time to pause and reflect on where we wish to go with alcohol-related policy and practice in the new year in our province, both as a community and personally. 

On the policy front, the rest of Canada has watched and often applauded Saskatchewan’s leadership in implementing  minimum pricing for alcohol. We have also seen recent provincial changes with the privatization of liquor sales and new liquor regulations announced. Discussion has surfaced around lowering the drinking age in Saskatchewan as well.

Canada’s National Alcohol Strategy promotes policies that will move us toward a “Culture of Moderation” and mitigate the risks of heavy alcohol use that typifies “frontier” drinking patterns. Some of the changes in our province are shifting us into this more balanced approach while others, such as extended hours for off-sale access, will most likely not.

The economic impact of alcohol-related harm in Saskatchewan is estimated to cost half a billion dollars a year. Saskatchewan also has the highest rate of death from drinking and driving in comparison to any other province or territory in Canada.

A public poll led by the University of Saskatchewan this year found that 56 per cent of residents surveyed said alcohol is a problem in their community. Some communities are already planning municipal bylaws to retract the new provincial extension of off-sale hours. 

Earlier this month, at the annual Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation’s Sante! Awards, provincial Health Minister Dustin Duncan highlighted the importance of applying the latest findings from research and innovation in practical ways to support the health of all Saskatchewan residents. To improve the alcohol-related health and safety of our communities we need to make choices for our province that are based on the latest evidence, coupled with the insights of a range of knowledgeable representatives, including policy makers, community members and business leaders.

On the personal front, we suggest the exact same applies when making individual choices about alcohol; make informed decisions based on the latest evidence. Canada’s new Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines do not promote the use of alcohol for health reasons and respects those who choose not to drink, for whatever reason. 

By the numbers, women are encouraged to drink no more than two standard drinks on most drinking days, no more than three on special occasions and no more than 10 per week. 

These are limits, not targets! 

Men are encouraged to drink no more than three standard drinks on most drinking days, no more than four on special occasions and no more than 15 per week. 

Clearly zero applies to pregnancy, driving, when taking certain medication or when providing care to others.

These recommendations are based on a general population. So, for example, people with a high risk of cancer or liver disease should cut the numbers in half, if they choose to drink at all.  Alcohol has been shown to stimulate tumor growth in breast, prostate and numerous abdominal cancers.

People should also pace their alcohol use with no more than one drink over 90 minutes, combine alcohol with food and alternate alcoholic with non-alcoholic beverages. A drink according to Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines is a 341 ml (12 oz.) glass of 5 per cent alcohol content (beer, cider or cooler), a 142 ml (5 oz.) glass of wine with 12 per cent alcohol content, or a 43 ml (1.5 oz) serving of 40 per cent distilled alcohol content (rye, gin, run, etc.). Choosing a safe environment is important as well. Hosts can help by monitoring their guests, not drinking too much themselves and providing both food and non-alcoholic drinks so people can exercise sensible choices, without social discomfort.  

Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, used the phrase “sober second thought” to refer to the role of the Senate in carefully considering how proposed legislation could affect the lives of Canadians. We think it would be wise for all in our province to heed such advice when it comes to considering the role of alcohol in our lives.

We encourage all residents to be more informed on the latest “facts” about alcohol as we move into 2013 and to generously share their knowledge, whether it is at the policy table or the holiday table! We suggest two sources that may assist with this,  www.ccsa.ca and www.whatsurcap.ca


Colleen Anne Dell,

Professor & Research Chair in Substance Abuse,

University of Saskatchewan

Peter Butt, M.D.

Associate Professor,

University of Saskatchewan


Organizations: University of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Canada

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