Alcohol prices in Canada should be raised to reduce the problems of excessive drinking, policy researchers recommend.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse released three reports Tuesday on alcohol use, sales and price policies with recommendations to deter risky, excessive drinking and its consequences.

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The report's author suggested setting minimum prices per standard drinks for bars. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

The findings were for the drinking population aged 15 and older. They included:

  • About 26 per cent, or five million people, drink excessively every month.
  • The heaviest drinkers in the country, about 20 per cent of the drinking population, drank about 70 per cent of the alcohol sold in 2004.
  • Risky drinking costs $14.6 billion each year, including for health care and policing violence.

Report author Gerald Thomas, senior research and policy analyst with the centre, suggested that governments base alcohol pricing policies on three principles:

  • Index alcohol prices to inflation.
  • Base prices, including minimum prices, on alcohol content to create incentives for lower strength products and discourage higher strength products.
  • Focus on minimum prices to remove the inexpensive sources of alcohol favoured by young adults and other high risk drinkers.

Setting minimum prices per standard unit of drinks for bars and liquor stores could reduce consumption, Thomas said.

"We feel $1.50, given where things are priced now and how many products would be affected, that that's a reasonable number, at least to start with," Thomas said.

Targeting regular drinkers alone won't address all sources of alcohol-related harms since much of the harm comes from the relatively large number of drinkers showing risky drinking only occasionally, Thomas said.

The reports compared pricing policies in six provinces: British ColumbiaAlbertaSaskatchewanOntario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

Most jurisdictions in Canada incorporate some of the principles, such as increasing prices on fortified wines with higher alcohol content, but none applies all three, according to the pricing report.

When researchers in B.C. looked at changes to the province's minimum alcohol prices over 20 years, they estimated that a 10 per cent increase in minimum prices reduced consumption of all alcoholic drinks combined by 3.4 per cent.

After Saskatchewan introduced minimum prices in bars and liquor stores two years ago, consumption fell by eight million beers in one year, Thomas said.

Tim Stockwell, director of the Centre for Addictions Research of BC in Victoria, who studied changes in the Prairie province.

"In the case of Saskatchewan, the government made more money and the retailers made more money and I guess the poor consumers spent more money and drank less alcohol," Stockwell said.

Rob McAlister, a second-year philosophy student in Toronto, said he "hammers" eight to 12 pints on weekends of whatever is on special. McAlister doesn't think raising the price will reduce his drinking.

"I'll just start brewing my own," he said.

Elsewhere, the U.K. Home Office said it will introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol.

With files from CBC's Pauline Dakin and Kim Brunhuber