The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is calling on Ontario to raise its legal drinking age from 19 to 21 in a bid to help curb alcohol abuse.

The recommendation comes in a report released this week that outlines the strategies it says could reduce the harms caused by alcohol.

Report author and CAMH senior scientist Dr. Norman Giesbrecht says alcohol use needs to be seen as a public health matter, noting about 22 per cent of Ontarians drink beyond recommended guidelines.

Most of Canada's provinces set the drinking age at 19, though in Alberta, Quebec and Manitoba, the drinking age is 18. In all of the U.S. meanwhile, the legal drinking age is 21.

The report notes that research from the United States supports a drinking age of 21, saying the change could help reduce drinking-and-driving incidents, delay the onset of drinking, and keep youth safer.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is endorsing the CAMH recommendations. It says on its website that more than 25,000 lives have been saved in the U.S. by restricting drinking to those 21 and over. They say research has shown that teens get drunk twice as fast as adults, have more trouble knowing when to stop, and binge drink more often.

Not everyone thinks raising the drinking age is a good idea, including student Andrew Swainson.

“You can vote at 18, you can go to war, you can go to jail as an adult. I just don’t get how you can be an adult but they can still put restrictions on you,” he told CTV London.

Business owners in Windsor, Ont., where busloads of American revellers under the age of 21 spill out into the city’s bars every weekend, worry that raising the drinking age would hurt their bottom line.

“It wouldn’t just affect the bar businesses, it would affect in general the cabbies out front because there’d be less people on the streets,” Ron Scarfone, general manager at Joe Kool’s says. “Being a university town, we thrive on those students coming to the city.”

The CAMH report also urges ending price or sales incentives by alcohol retailers, such as the LCBO, and tightening restrictions on sponsorships, specifically those targeting young adults.

As well, the authors would like to see mandatory alcohol warning labels on liquor, beer and wine bottles that warn about the risks of underage drinking, drinking and driving, and the risk of chronic diseases from long-term drinking.

"All of the things we’re recommending are based on the research, the international research evidence,” Dr. Giesbrecht told CTV London.

The other recommendations include:

  • Adjusting alcohol prices to keep pace with inflation.
  • Maintaining government-run monopolies which regulate access to alcohol.
  • Limiting the availability of alcohol by reducing the hours of operation.
  • Strengthening drinking and driving regulations.
  • Supporting a consistent physician screening, referral and brief intervention protocol by implementing a fee for service code that is specific to these activities.
  • Incorporating scenario-based activities into the Smart Serve Responsible Beverage Service’s training program and a requirement of periodic retraining.
  • Developing a provincial alcohol strategy that emphasizes alcohol-specific policies and interventions.

With a report from CTV Windsor's Rich Garton