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Single beers fuelling addicts

It's the cheap solution for the impoverished

Single-can sales of cheap beer are a staple of low-income alcoholics. Manitoba has adjusted prices based on alcohol content to address this.


Single-can sales of cheap beer are a staple of low-income alcoholics. Manitoba has adjusted prices based on alcohol content to address this. Purchase Photo Print


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/9/2013 (1375 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Every morning at beer vendors in the inner city and other disadvantaged parts of town, breakfast clubs meet as early as 9 a.m.

But there is no eggs Benedict or Belgian waffles at these get-togethers, just a couple of cheap, low-end beers for underprivileged alcoholics to get their morning buzz.

Individual cans or bottles of beer have been for sale in Manitoba for several years and they're now the fastest-growing segment in the province.

Of course, these sales aren't entirely super cans of Molson Dry and Colt 45. A significant proportion are imports and specialty beers, which well-to-do beer connoisseurs mix and match.

There's no question the city and province want to reduce public drunkenness, particularly downtown, but the most obvious potential solution to reducing the availability of cheap beer to alcoholics -- taking the individual cans and bottles off vendor shelves -- has the potential to make things worse.

Jim Rondeau, minister of healthy living, seniors and consumer affairs, said he's afraid that might lead to addicts turning to mouthwash and hand sanitizer to escape reality.

"Removing the product might not solve the problem. A knee-jerk response might create a bigger one," he said.

Rondeau said he will solicit the counsel of experts in the fields of alcoholism and addictions to figure out the best course of action.

Gerald Thomas, senior research and policy analyst with the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse in Ottawa, said it's no secret people who drink heavily gravitate to the cheapest alcohol.

"People who are economically disadvantaged will try to get more bang for their buck," Thomas said.

Manitoba has been one of the leaders in tackling the problem during the last couple of years. The province adjusted the price on beer and certain liquors based on their alcohol content -- the more alcohol in the bottle, the higher the price.

Previously, you could get a 12-ounce, five per cent alcohol beer for the same price as an eight per cent alcohol malt liquor in the same-sized bottle.

"When you raise your minimum price on alcohol content, you get rid of that cheap source, so you create a really solid floor," Thomas said.

But it's not just cheap beer that addicts are attracted to; they're also partial to potent varieties of sherry, he said.

"If it's in the system, they'll find it," he said.



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