Drinking in Manitoba was already drying up


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In the wake of new national guidance recommending Canadians consider limiting alcohol consumption to two drinks per week, local outlets say Winnipeggers have already changed their habits.

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In the wake of new national guidance recommending Canadians consider limiting alcohol consumption to two drinks per week, local outlets say Winnipeggers have already changed their habits.

Shaun Jeffrey, chief executive officer of the Manitoba Restaurants & Food Services Association, says gone are the days when people ordered just a house wine or several drinks to go with their meals.

“It was a very big part of going out and drinking a lot in the past, but now dining out is an experience,” Jeffrey said Wednesday.

“People pair more. They have a steak and they mix it with a quality wine instead of a house wine. People spend more money to pair the food, so they have a higher quality of drink rather than two or three.”

This week, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, a non-governmental organization created in 1988 to look at alcohol- and other drug-related harms, released its updated guidance.

Where a decade ago, the organization said two drinks a day was low risk, and men could have 15 drinks a week and women up to 10, it is now advising more than two drinks a week increases serious health risks, including cancer.

It also recommends the addition of warning labels on alcohol bottles.

The recent report came after a panel of 23 experts looked at almost 6,000 peer-reviewed studies. The data showed almost 7,000 cancer deaths in Canada were caused by alcohol, with breast and colon cancer the most frequent.

However, Jeffrey said he doesn’t think the study’s results will hit restaurants in the bottom line because people are already choosing other drinks. There is more of a selection of non-alcoholic beverages and the younger generation coming through the doors appears more responsible than others in the past, he said.

“We see their consumption, compared to consumption when we were their age, as considerably less. They are more focused on the experience than consuming alcohol. Our industry has to cater to our customers and our customers are not heavy drinkers.”

Kim Bamburak, with Winnipeg retailer Kenaston Wine Market, said staff are seeing more people buying something other than wine.

“We’ve seen such a large increase in non-alcoholic purchases,” Bamburak said.

“A lot of people drank a lot during COVID (pandemic lockdowns and restrictions) and now people are looking a bit more carefully about their health. Some people are taking a step back and wondering, ‘Am I drinking too much?’

“So now they might have a nice bottle of wine this week and then a non-alcoholic one… I think it’s a good trend.”

Dan Malleck, a medical historian specializing in alcohol and drug policy and a professor at Brock University’s health sciences department, said the report exaggerates the risks of alcohol use and is silent about its benefits.

“I’m more concerned with the way these recommendations can create stigma,” Malleck said. “It can cause a lot of concerns and stress and anxiety and that can cause harm.”

There are benefits to drinking alcohol during social occasions and celebrations with family and friends, he added.

“Pleasure, happiness, relaxation, reduced anxiety are all connected to positive health benefits,” the professor said. “Not to minimize cancer as a disease, but most of the cancers that the CCSA seems association with alcohol are very low incidence… They talk about increased risk as a percentage. This distorts the meaning.

“Most people who drink moderately, they shouldn’t worry. It is a somewhat reckless report.”

Keir Johnson, a spokesman for Doctors Manitoba, said physicians review new research and recommendations before giving advice to patients.

“Like any new advice about health risks, physicians are carefully (reviewing) the new recommended levels of alcohol consumption for consideration in their practice,” he said.

A spokeswoman for oversight body Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corp. said it would be up to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the federal government to determine whether warning labels would be put on bottles of alcohol.

The spokeswoman added MLL uses CCSA information on its DrinkSense website and other information to encourage lower-risk drinking.

A provincial industry regulator Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba spokeswoman said its officials can’t speculate how the new guidance could affect liquor sales in future.

“The LGCA will monitor the issue as it moves forward, and we will continue consulting with stakeholders in public health, harm reduction, law enforcement, as well as other levels of government, to determine what, if any, changes are needed to Manitoba’s liquor regulatory framework,” she said.


Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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