Addiction Crisis, USA: Raise Alcohol Taxes

Addiction Crisis, USA: Raise Alcohol Taxes

Alcohol abuse is a fast-growing problem in the United States. And it is largely ignored. Higher taxes on beer, wine and liquor could help tackle the problem, writes the editorial board of Bloomberg View.

As alarms over the opioid crisis sound ever louder, a larger and more expensive substance problem in the U.S. is quietly growing much worse. One in eight Americans abuses alcohol, a new study finds, a 50 percent increase since the start of the century.”

The harm that alcohol causes in the United States is of epidemic proportions – especially illustrated by the fact that President Trump has recently declared the opioid crisis a “national emergency”. In announcing the news, Mr Trump delivered one of his signature exaggerations that are borderline untruths. He said the epidemic exceeded anything he had seen with other drugs in his lifetime.

However, in the United States an estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

With regard to the opioid crisis, it is now estimated that 500,000 people could die over the next decade. But alcohol-related deaths over a decade will almost amount to one million.

The opioid crisis is a real crisis and needs urgent political attention. No question about it. But at the same time, there is an alcohol harm crisis going on of even bigger proportions that (still) does not receive any (political) attention.

It stands to reason that the most comprehensive, sustainable and promising approach would be to forge a conversation about all harmful substances that are ravaging families, communities, and society in the US, and looking for adequate population level solutions.

The editorial board of Bloomberg View takes a look at the numbers:

There are almost 90,000 alcohol-related deaths in America every year. Excessive [alcohol use], mainly binge [alcohol use], costs some $250 billion a year in lost productivity, health care and other expenses. The toll in personal suffering and ruined lives is incalculable.

Yet there has been a strange reluctance to fight back with the weapons known to work: restrictions on alcohol sales and advertising and, even more effective, higher taxes on alcohol. The federal tax on spirits (about 21 cents per ounce of alcohol; taxes on beer and wine are less than half that) has not changed since 1991, and over the past few decades the inflation-adjusted cost of [alcohol use] has fallen considerably. Many states have likewise neglected to index their alcohol taxes to inflation.”

In fact, systematic reviews of the literature to assess the effectiveness of alcohol tax policy interventions for reducing alcohol consumption and related harms show that there is strong evidence that raising alcohol taxes is an effective strategy for reducing alcohol consumption and related harms.

Lawmakers need to be clear about the problem, however, and ways to control it. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has declared drug overdose deaths, which reached nearly 60,000 in 2016, to be America’s ‘top lethal issue.’ He’s not the only one who needs to be reminded that alcohol abuse is significantly more deadly, and just as deserving of attention.”

For further reading:

USA: Trump Declares Opioid Crisis National Emergency

ContinueTo Complete Story: Bloomberg View