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‘Halting the harm’: Nunavut to launch alcohol awareness campaign

It’s “no secret” that irresponsible use of alcohol is an issue in Nunavut, according to Jeff Chown, acting deputy minister for the Government of Nunavut’s department of Finance, the department responsible for managing alcohol sales in the territory.

In the hopes of reducing the effects of alcohol abuse, the government will launch a campaign to promote responsible drinking this fall following recommendations contained in a 2012 report entitled Halting the Harm, which the government produced after territory-wide consultation on the Nunavut Liquor Act.

The department does not go so far as to define “responsible drinking”, but Chown said he sees it as consumption of alcohol in a “safe, healthy manner for both the individual and the public at large.” In Nunavut, alcohol sales are restricted depending on the community, but drinkers in Nunavut binge drink at rates well above the national average. Some residents of Nunavut consulted for the report believe that the “growing trend” of binge drinking significantly contributes to “poor health, low educational achievement, relationship problems, and crime.”

Context Research of Vancouver, which submitted the winning bid to create the campaign targeting the general public, youth, and Alcohol Education Committees in Nunavut, will work with Iqaluit-based Atiigo Media. The companies have started research, completed community consultations, and are finalizing a logo. The government approved the strategy in May.

Context and Atiigo will host events, produce promotional materials, and place advertisements in newspapers, radio, and social media aimed at the general public.

To reach youth, campaign organizers plan on holding promotional events and give-aways in schools. Outside of schools, the organizers plan to launch a website and use social media.

The territory will also provide funding for train-the-trainer sessions and community specific events to reach Alcohol Education Committees, which have the responsibility of deciding who in their communities can purchase and consume alcohol. 

The request for proposals calling for bids on the project originally capped the budget at $600,000, but Chown said the department felt more money was needed. “As we have been developing the scope, we have actually enhanced the budget,” he said.

Amendments to the Nunavut Liquor Act made in 2013 mean that the Finance department can set aside up to $500,000 annually from the liquor revolving fund to pay for awareness campaigns.  

“We think this is a good news story and we’re looking forward to some positive results,” Chown said. Results, he said, are “not easily measured,” but would include fewer visits to health centres and less involvement with police due to alcohol related issues. 

The authors of Halting the Harm point out that research on alcohol awareness campaigns shows “mixed results about the benefits of such campaigns,” but that residents of Nunavut view such efforts as effective.

Nunavut’s Liquor Act Review Task Force agrees: “Contrary to the experience of other jurisdictions, these types of programs are effective in the Nunavut context.”◉

Photo: A pile of beer cans in Iqaluit awaits shipment to the south for recycling. Credit: Brian Pehora

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