By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
September 12, 2019
Alcohol abuse is an expensive habit. Excessive drinking leads to increased medical bills, costly accidents, lost wages, etc. And who picks up the tab? According to a new study, the majority of the costs of alcohol’s harms are borne by those who don’t drink excessively or who don’t drink at all.
Research released Tuesday in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs tallies the harm caused by excessive alcohol consumption in the United States at a startling $2.05 per drink. Of this, the government ends up paying about 80 cents per drink. However, federal and state alcohol taxes combined cover only about 21 cents per drink, leaving the bulk of the cost to be paid by non-drinkers.
“As a Christian, there are a lot of causes that I am more than willing to support to help my neighbors in North Carolina, but the alcohol industry is not one of them,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “And yet, we continue to subsidize excessive drinking, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control, kills about 88,000 people in our nation every year.”
Beyond the tragic loss of life, the CDC estimates the annual cost of excessive drinking in the Tar Heel state at more than $7 billion per year ($738 per capita or $2.11 per drink). The costs include losses in workplace productivity, healthcare expenses, law enforcement and criminal justice, and losses from motor vehicle crashes. They do not include any tally of pain and suffering.
In their new study, “The Composition and Magnitude of Alcohol Taxes in States: Do They Cover Alcohol-Related Costs?”, Jason Blanchette, Frank Chaloupka and Timothy Naimi used data on state ad valorem excise, specific excise and sales taxes from the Alcohol Policy Information System and Tax Foundation to find the total tax collected per drink. They say that sum accounted for only a quarter of the cost per drink to government from excessive drinking and covered only a 10th of the total cost.
They hope their findings will help inform those responsible for alcohol policy.
“Policy debates around alcohol taxes have mostly centered on public health benefits, but I think our study might change the focus of the debate somewhat, since it seems fair that those who drink the most and who produce and sell alcohol should cover the costs to society,” says Blanchette, a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Health Law, Policy & Management at the Boston University School of Public Health.
Naimi says “Increasing alcohol taxes could improve public health and reduce the disparity between alcohol-related costs and alcohol taxes in states.”
His prior studies have shown that because they have not been updated to account for inflation, on average, alcohol specific excise taxes declined approximately 30 percent across all beverage types between 1991 and 2015.
The new study comes on the heels of state lawmakers’ introduction of a bill that would do away with North Carolina’s Alcohol Beverage Control system and allow hundreds more alcohol outlets across the state.
The topic of discussion in a recent House ABC Committee meeting, the 44-page “Modern Licensure Model for Alcohol Control” (HB 971) is expected to be taken up in earnest next session.
“We need to pray that lawmakers’ eyes are opened by studies like the one released this week that show not only the high cost of excessive alcohol use, but the truth about who is already bearing that burden,” said the Rev. Creech. “How much more havoc would we unleash on North Carolinians by destroying our control system for ABC?”