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On the road to responsible drinking

The Nunavut Liquor Commission wants to change the way Nunavummiut think about alcohol.

Chief inspector for the GN's Nunavut liquor management division Kenny Bell, left, director of the liquor management Trisha Makpah of Rankin Inlet, and Jenny Scott of Context Research make up the Let’s Be Aware team, seen here in Cape Dorset last winter. photo courtesy of Dept. of Finance

"We're trying to move away from the binge-drinking culture, toward a more responsible culture," said manager of corporate policy for the Department of Finance Mads Sandbakken. "Trying to make people more aware of their own drinking habits, their own drinking patterns, and try to discourage binge drinking."

The Let's be Aware harm-reduction campaign swung into action this year. Last winter, teams travelled to Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay and Cape Dorset to deliver the message, while in October a team visited Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay. Visits to Chesterfield Inlet and Arviat are planned for November.

Chief inspector for the GN's Nunavut liquor management division Kenny Bell was part of a team that visited three communities.

"Hard liquor especially – a lot of people, when we show them our glasses that have the 1.5 ounce portion, which is your regular standard, they're shocked," Bell said. "A lot of people drink hard liquor straight with a little bit of water or a little bit of pop. Not everyone, obviously."

The measuring cup is part of the materials, along with posters and information sheets, that explain Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.

"I always say, I don't really have a problem drinking but when I drink I have a problem. So I might not drink for two or three months, but when I drink I binge drink," said Bell.

And that's not hard to do.

Free-pouring alcohol is not unique to the territory. People are often surprised, even when they pour what seems to be a regular drink, that they are pouring the equivalent of two or three drinks.

Two portions of alcohol per day for women, and three for men, is responsible, and no more than five days a week. It's considered binge drinking if a woman has four or more drinks in one sitting, five or more drinks for a man.

"Even myself, I'm trying to curb that. That's obviously not a healthy way to live," said Bell.

With the loosening of restrictions in the territory, such as opening a beer and wine store in the capital, and perhaps in Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay in the future, the Department of Finance advocates for Nunavummiut to enjoy the same privileges as other Canadians. But with the privilege of access to alcohol is the requirement to be educated.

"We're trying not to talk about alcohol in terms of bad or good. We're trying to give the people education and resources so they themselves can make the decision for their own selves when it comes to alcohol," said Sandbakken.

The team hopes to visit all communities, whether alcohol is unrestricted, restricted or prohibited.

One goal is steering Alcohol Education Committees (AEC) toward education.

"They haven't really been living up to their mandate. They've been more a rubber stamp in restricted communities, where you have to go through the AEC to purchase alcohol. But they haven't been very involved in educating people about what it means to drink, what alcohol is, the effects of alcohol, what are the recommended guidelines, when you might have a problem with alcohol abuse," said Sandbakken.

The department includes prohibited communities in their plans, because the department is acknowledging "alcohol is in all Nunavut communities," said Sandbakken.

The Iqaluit beer and wine store is also intended as a harm-reduction tool – selling only low-alcohol beverages to divert people from large quantities of bootlegged vodka and other hard liquor.

Asked if the store has had an impact on bootlegging in the capital, assistant deputy minister of finance Dan Carlson told Nunavut News, "We’ve heard positive feedback over the last few weeks, but it is still too early to comment on long-term community impacts."