The costs of alcohol

A report released recently by the Senate Finance Committee starkly underscores the terrible financial cost to the United States stemming from alcohol abuse: over $120 billion annually.

The dollar amount is an estimate. It does not reflect the sum of personal tragedy linked to alcoholism - from lost jobs, costly hospitalization, highway mishaps. Given that alcohol abuse represents a major social challenge in the US, is it not time for Washington to consider boosting taxes on alcohol products as one way of discouraging consumption?

The idea of increasing taxes has been gaining more and more adherents of late , in part sparked by studies that suggest a correlation between the price of drinks and actual sales. Such studies come not just from the United States. The World Health Organization has recommended that governments deliberately raise the price of alcohol above the rate of inflation as one ''effective means of reducing consumption.''

The federal excise tax on a bottle of liquor has not been increased since 195 l.

The federal tax on beer has remained the same since 1964. But the CPI has shot up by some 183 percent since then.

Just tripling and equalizing the federal taxes on wine, beer, and liquor, as advocated by the Center For Science in the Public Interest, would bring in an additional $20 billion or more annually for hardpressed Treasury coffers. Such increases could also be expected to discourage consumption. It is estimated that boosting prices by even 30 percent could lead to a drop in purchases of from 9 percent to 30 percent.

What needs to be kept in clear focus here is the need to reduce alcohol consumption and to ensure that the actual users of such products pay their share in liquor-related taxes. Alcoholism remains a serious challenge in the United States. To not bring liquor taxes into line with other taxes is in effect to grant a governmental preference to alcohol-related products.

That is hardly sound public policy.

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