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Alcohol Tax Reduces Consumption, Saves Lives


Nobody likes having his taxes raised. But it turns out that in the U.S. state of Alaska, where citizens were very unhappy about having the tax on alcoholic beverages raised twice, those increases saved lives. VOA's Jessica Berman reports.

According to Alex Wagenaar, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida, numerous studies have shown that individuals' drinking habits, such as how much they drink and when they drink, are affected by the price of alcohol.

Based on that knowledge, Wagenaar wanted to see whether two alcohol tax increases in Alaska, in 1983 and again in 2002, had any effect on the state's mortality rate.

So, he and his colleagues looked at the number of alcohol-related deaths, such as pancreatitis and alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver, before and after the first tax and the second increase were enacted.

"The effects were quite astounding," Wagenaar says. "We found quite very clearly a significant and substantial decline in the death rate due to alcohol-related disease after each of these alcohol-related tax increases in the state of Alaska."

Wagenaar says after the first tax increase, there was a 29 percent decline in alcohol-related deaths almost immediately, followed by a steady decline in alcohol deaths over the next 20 years. After the second tax increase, he says there was a reduction in the number of deaths by an additional 11 percent.

"So, it's quite clear, when you look at the figures, it's quite clear the effect it had on mortality," Wagenaar says.

He notes that his study shows the major positive impact that a government's fiscal policy can have on public health.