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The Impact of a 25-Cent-Per-Drink Alcohol Tax Increase

      Background

      Excessive alcohol consumption causes 79,000 deaths annually in the U.S., shortening the lives of those who die from it by approximately 30 years. Although alcohol taxation is an effective measure to reduce excessive consumption and related harm, some argue that increasing alcohol taxes places an unfair economic burden on “responsible” drinkers and socially disadvantaged people.

      Purpose

      To examine the impact of a hypothetic tax increase based on alcohol consumption and sociodemographic characteristics of current drinkers, individually and in aggregate.

      Methods

      Data from the 2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey were analyzed from 2010 to 2011 to determine the net financial impact of a hypothetic 25-cent-per-drink tax increase on current drinkers in the U.S. Higher-risk drinkers were defined as those whose past-30-day consumption included binge drinking, heavy drinking, drinking in excess of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, and alcohol-impaired driving.

      Results

      Of U.S. adults who consumed alcohol in the past 30 days, 50.4% (or approximately 25% of the total U.S. population) were classified as higher-risk drinkers. The tax increase would result in a 9.2% reduction in alcohol consumption, including an 11.4% reduction in heavy drinking. Compared with lower-risk drinkers, higher-risk drinkers would pay 4.7 times more in net increased annual per capita taxes, and 82.7% of the net increased annual aggregate taxes. Lower-risk drinkers would pay less than $30 in net increased taxes annually. In aggregate, groups who paid the most in net tax increases included those who were white, male, aged 21–50 years, earning ≥$50,000 per year, employed, and had a college degree.

      Conclusions

      A 25-cent-per-drink alcohol tax increase would reduce excessive drinking, and higher-risk drinkers would pay the substantial majority of the net tax increase.
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