Editorial: What’s up, Doc?
Poll: Do you think liquor prices should be increased?
Photograph by: Grant Black , Calgary Herald
If Albertans are injured or suffering from persistent pain, they can do no better than to seek the expertise of a doctor. But in dispensing advice on how to put a cork in binge drinking among youth and urging the province to act quickly to shutter coal plants, physicians are inviting calls for a second opinion.
Dr. James Talbot, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, has encouraged the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission to mark up the price of alcohol as one way of reducing binge drinking among young people, which had reportedly risen to 19 per cent in 2008, up from 13 per cent just six years earlier.
“Alcohol taxation or markups can be used to successfully reduce underage drinking because youth, who typically have lower incomes, are more sensitive to higher prices,” states the report from Talbot’s office.
Talbot’s figures on binging are for those aged 12 to 19 — so the bulk of them shouldn’t be drinking alcohol in any event. The unfortunate consequence of his proposal, of course, is that responsible drinkers — regardless of their age — would have to shell out more for their tipple for no apparent benefit.
By Talbot’s logic, the government should increase the cost of a driver’s licence for everyone to reduce the rate of accidents among young people. To its credit, the government hasn’t adopted such a policy when it comes to improving the safety of young people on our roadways, and it shouldn’t listen to Talbot’s advice on liquor prices.
When it comes to encouraging responsible drinking, the president of the University of Calgary’s students’ union has the right idea.
“We want to educate students and protect them, but they are adults now and a big part is equipping people with the knowledge and ability to be smart and responsible drinkers,” said Raphael Jacob, adding the university operates a year-round smart drinker alcohol awareness campaign. It’s by instilling in young people a healthy respect for alcohol, not imposing higher prices, that the problem of binge drinking is best addressed.
Doctors’ advice isn’t restricted to wanting Albertans to pay more for a six-pack. The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, among other groups, would have the province hurriedly close coal-fired power plants because of concerns over respiratory problems.
“The more data that comes out worldwide on coal just strengthens our belief that coal is not just climate villain No. 1, but a huge contributor to human illness and death,” says the association’s Gideon Forman.
TransAlta Utilities says air monitoring indicates contaminant levels near coal-fired plants are at a small fraction of what’s permitted under government guidelines and that a 2006 study found no difference in the health of people living near the plants and the provincial average.
The fact is Alberta’s reliance on coal has dropped from 65 per cent to 41 per cent over the past 15 years. Energy Minister Ken Hughes says a further 17 coal plants, representing almost a quarter of Alberta’s generating capacity, are to be idled in the next 17 years.
Forman and his group point to Ontario’s progress at replacing coal-fired plants, but Canada’s most populous province is hardly a model for electricity generation. Plans for cleaner-burning gas-powered plants have been cancelled because of public uproar at a cost of $585 million, and the embracing of expensive so-called green energy has driven up Ontarians’ power bills with little benefit to consumers.
The Ontario Power Authority itself says 55 per cent of its electricity is generated at nuclear plants — technology Albertans have traditionally rejected. A further 25 per cent of Ontario’s power is hydroelectricity — a method that clearly puts Alberta, in the heart of the dry Prairies, at a disadvantage.
Hurriedly pulling the plug on coal plants, as Forman and his colleagues suggest, isn’t in the best interest of Albertans, who need access to reliable, reasonably priced electricity when it’s -30 C on a cold winter’s night.
And the meddlesomeness doesn’t end there. On Tuesday, the Herald reported that Dr. Chad Bell is urging not just extreme mountain bikers to don body armour — specifically, chest protection — but all cyclists.
Earlier this month, another physician warned that hospital lotteries — where each ticket costs usually $100 — could exacerbate addictive gambling. It’s all just a little too overly protective.
Doctors have a tremendous contribution to make to society — in the medical clinic, the hospital and in the public square, where all views are heard and weighed. But occasionally, the remedies that doctors dispense should be taken with a pinch of salt.