The relationship of increased alcohol taxes to reductions in alcohol-related harm is well established. Few studies, however, have examined the effects of sudden decreases in alcohol tax rates or effects of narrow tax changes limited to specific beverage types. In the current study, we: (1) examine whether tax increases on spirits have similar effects in reducing alcohol-related disease mortality as increasing taxes on all types of alcoholic beverages simultaneously, and (2) evaluate effects of beer-specific tax decreases in New York State on mortality.
We used a time-series, quasi-experimental research design, including non-alcohol deaths within New York State and other states’ rates of alcohol-related disease mortality for comparison. The dataset included 456 monthly observations of mortality in New York State over a 38-year period (1969–2006). We used a random-effects approach and included several other important covariates.
Alcohol-related disease mortality declined by 7.0% after a 1990 tax increase for spirits and beer. A spirits-only tax increase (in 1972) was not significantly associated with mortality but a data anomaly increased error in this effect estimate. Small tax decreases on beer between 1996 and 2006 had no measurable effect on mortality. Doubling the beer tax from $0.11 to $0.22 per gallon, a return to New York State's 1990 levels, would decrease deaths by an estimated 250 deaths per year.
Excise tax increases on beer and spirits were associated with reductions in alcohol-related disease mortality. Modifying tax rates on a single beverage type does not appear to be as effective as doing so on multiple alcoholic beverages simultaneously. In New York, small decreases in beer taxes were not significantly associated with alcohol-related disease mortality.
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