Repeal Of Alcohol Tax Will Boost Morbidity And Mortality, Expert Says

John Kelly, associate director of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Mass. General Hospital, says repeal of the alcohol tax will cost lives

Now that Massachusetts voters have repealed the 6.25% tax on alcohol (depriving the state of about $110 million in revenue that was funding alcohol treatment programs) what will happen next?

Well, aside from making its liquor-industry backers very happy, the tax rollback will certainly fuel consumption of alcoholic beverages, which will lead to an increase in drinking-related deaths, accidents and other harms to society, according to John Kelly, associate director of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Indeed, on Monday, the medical journal, The Lancet, published a study that found alcohol to be the most dangerous drug — surpassing heroin, cocaine, esctasy and others in terms of the harms it can inflict on society.

One of the simplest, and best known tactics in public health (and one that has been used effectively in tobacco-prevention strategies) is to raise taxes on products you want the public to avoid, Kelly says. The relationship between price and consumption is “very robust,” he says. Slap an extra tax on beer, and people reduce their drinking; repeal the tax, they reach for that Rolling Rock again.

But there’s a public health cost, Kelly says: For every one liter of alcohol that the population consumes per capita, there’s a corresponding increase in mortality of 1%. The deaths attributable to alcohol abuse are well documented in numerous studies, he notes.

It’s unclear whether the state will tap other funding streams to pay for alcohol treatment programs, or if the programs will simply be eliminated. Still, Kelly says, if taxpayers think they’re saving money in the long run, they’re wrong. That’s because all of us will still be covering the cost of emergency room visits, road accidents, alcohol-related cancers, loss of productivity in the workplace and other social problems that alcohol abuse can create.

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