Alcohol Tax Boost Touted to Yield Public Health Benefits

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DENVER -- Doubling the currently low alcohol tax would result in roughly a 35% reduction in direct alcohol-related mortality as well as substantial benefits across a range of other important public health outcomes, a meta-analysis has shown.

"We have a lot of literature. This is probably the most studied preventive health policy issue. The magnitude of the observed effects is larger and more consistent than for most other preventive efforts that have been studied," Alexander C. Wagenaar, Ph.D., said at the meeting.

He presented a meta-analysis based on what he described as "an exhaustive search" of the past 50 years of published studies on the effects of alcohol tax pricing policies on a whole range of public health outcomes.

In summary, a 10% increase in the alcohol tax and a commensurate price increase would result in an across-the-board 5% reduction in drinking across all groups: underage teens as well as adults, moderate as well as heavy drinkers. The meta-analysis of 50 studies showed that doubling the alcohol tax would be associated on average with a 35% reduction in deaths due to cirrhosis, some cancers, and other directly alcohol-related causes; an 11% drop in traffic crash morbidity and mortality; a 6% decrease in sexually transmitted infections; a 2% reduction in violence; and a 1% decrease in crime and delinquent misbehavior. All of these effects were statistically significant, according to Dr. Wagenaar, professor of epidemiology and health policy at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

"This is a policy that applies at the population level. It's not just for the high-risk group, it's not only for the people that get into treatment. When a tax change is implemented, it changes the environment slightly across the entire population such that there's a reduction in drinking, and that effect ripples across these whole sets of alcohol-related outcomes," explained the researcher, whose prior health policy studies have been credited as playing a key role in establishing the uniform nationwide drinking age of 21. …