New study shows higher taxes reduced alcohol-related disease mortality
WASHINGTON, DC, November 13, 2008 – Raising taxes on beer, wine and liquor immediately reduces the number of deaths from alcohol-related diseases such as liver disease, oral or breast cancers, and alcohol poisoning, according to a new study published in the online edition of the American Journal of Public Health.
In the first study of its kind to directly measure the effect of state alcohol tax changes on deaths from alcohol-related diseases, researchers found that raising alcohol taxes had two to four times the impact of other common prevention efforts such as school programs or media campaigns.
"The findings are quite astounding," said Alexander C. Wagenaar, PhD, with the University of Florida College of Medicine. "A simple adjustment of the tax rate resulted in a substantial drop in the death rate." The study was funded by the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Researchers reviewed two separate tax increases on alcoholic beverages in 1983 and 2002 in Alaska, and tracked the number of people who died from alcohol-related diseases in the state for years before and following the tax hikes.
Alaska is one of the first states to implement a noticeable tax increase, which is one of the reasons the authors decided to examine it. In 1983, Alaska's tax on beer increased to 63 cents per gallon, compared to 46 cents in 1982, and increased to $1.20 in 2002.
"Alaska was cognizant of its alcohol problems and decided do something meaningful. We are now benefiting from the results of their unique experiment which shows what other states could gain if they were to implement a similar tax increase," Wagenaar said.
Compared to all other states and factoring in nationwide trends—due to improved health care and other factors—the authors discovered that the 1983 tax increase was immediately followed by a 29 percent reduction in deaths (23 deaths averted per year), and the 2002 tax increase reduced the number of deaths by 11 percent (an additional 21 deaths averted per year). In addition, the authors found that the impact of the tax increase did not quickly dissipate, but remained over the long-term.
"The bottom line is that when we see an intervention that can reduce the death rate of any chronic disease such as cancer or heart disease by a few percent across the whole population, we consider it an important success," Wagenaar said. "In this case, the death rate for alcohol-related diseases dropped suddenly by at least 11 percent and at minimal cost."
One of the biggest problems with alcohol taxes in general, he said, is the way that alcoholic beverages are currently taxed in most states and at the federal level. Most states implement tax rates on beer, wine and spirits by the gallon. As a result, the real dollar amount drops over the long term since the taxes are not adjusted for inflation each year. While many states and the federal government have made minor adjustments to their tax rates, nationwide the average real dollar tax amount on alcohol has dropped substantially since the 1950s.
The Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (www.saprp.org) of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funds research into policies related to alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 30 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. Helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need—the Foundation expects to make a difference in our lifetime. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org.
Booze Taxes Lower Alcohol-Linked Deaths
Alaska's alcohol tax increases tied to a drop in cirrhosis, cancer, study found
November 13, 2008
By Alan Mozes, U.S. News & World Report
THURSDAY, Nov. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Raising state taxes on alcohol may trigger an immediate drop in the number of people who die from alcohol-related disease, new research reveals.
The finding is based on the particular experience of Alaska, following that state's two legislative moves to raise taxes on beer, wine and liquor in 1983 and 2002. In the first instance, the research team observed a 29 percent decline in deaths from alcohol-related disease; in the second, the apparent drop was 11 percent.
"The real bottom line is that the increase in the alcohol tax saved lives," said study lead author Alexander C. Wagenaar, a professor of epidemiology with the College of Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Wagenaar and his team will publish their conclusions in the online January edition of the American Journal of Public Health. The study was funded by the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
To gauge the impact of alcohol taxes on alcohol-related disease fatalities, the authors analyzed U.S. National Center for Health Statistics data from 1976 through 2004. They tallied the number of men and women who died from a range of alcohol-related conditions, both in Alaska and across the United States, before and after Alaska's two tax bumps.
Such diseases include cirrhosis, cancer of the mouth, cancers of the esophagus, breast cancer, and a number of other pancreatic and cardiac illnesses. Alongside alcohol-related injuries and accidents, such illnesses make up the estimated 85,000 alcohol-fueled deaths occurring in the United States annually.
The researchers note that Alaska is one of the first states to impose a serious increase in alcohol tax, raising its tax on beer, for example, from 46 cents to 63 cents per gallon in 1983, and then again to $1.20 per gallon in 2002. While most states have some sort of alcohol tax in place, the authors point out that tax rates are typically not adjusted for inflation, the result being that the "real" dollar value of alcohol taxes has actually fallen over the last half century.
In Alaska, however, Wagenaar and his colleagues found evidence that even after accounting for general improvements in health care, the imposition of a substantial alcohol tax was tied to an almost instantaneous public health reward.
Following the 1983 tax bump, 23 more deaths were averted per year -- a 29 percent drop in mortality that continued to hold up over time. Following the 2002 bump, another 21 deaths were averted annually, another 11 percent plunge.
What's more, Alaska's alcohol taxes appeared to be more powerful than other prevention efforts designed to reduce alcohol-related death rates. Specifically, the two taxes were deemed to be two to four times as effective in lowering death rates as anti-drinking media campaigns or school programs aimed at getting teens to curb their drinking.
"Basically, this was a simple adjustment of an existing policy that didn't involve increasing new health programs or interventions or spending large amounts of money," Wagenaar noted. "And it should be pointed out that in public health, if we do something that reduces the death rate by just 3 or 5 percent, that's considered to be a major success. And these tax increases reduced the risk of death from alcohol-related disease far more substantially than that."
"So, the implication for the other states and the country as a whole is quite amazing," Wagenaar added. "Just think of the healthcare cost that would be saved if we reduced the death rates across the whole country. And this is absolutely something that's not impossible to do."
Dr. Marc Galanter, director of the division of alcoholism and drug abuse in the psychiatry department at New York University's School of Medicine in New York City, expressed little surprise with the study findings.
"Many studies have shown, in different settings, that increasing the price of either alcohol or tobacco leads to a decline in sales," he noted. "So this study reaffirms this effect and its impact, in terms of alcohol. And it suggests that any change in public health messages concerning alcohol consumption should also involve a change in taxes, and therefore prices, as an effective means for ensuring improved health for the community."
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