Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

Taxing Alcohol for Profit and Punishment

April 10, 2013 by  
Filed under Featured Story, News, Taxes, Temperance

Although there appears to be no acceptable level of alcohol consumption to participants at the Alcohol Policy 16 Conference, which met last week in Arlington, Va., attendees certainly don’t mind profiting from people who do drink. During a discussion on alcohol tax policy, these “public health advocates” discussed ways to hike the rates as much as possible and earmark the funds to their own organizations.

I thought we’d hear about research related to the impact of taxes on alcohol abuse. For example:  Do higher taxes really reduce alcohol abuse or do they simply punish all alcohol consumers? The answer to that question appeared not to matter. The entire discussion revolved around how to lobby for taxes and profit in the process.

Rebecca Ramirez of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University presented her qualitative research on the framing of pro-tax messaging for use in lobbying campaigns. It included interviews with policymakers and activists involved in these campaigns.  Ramirez’s discussion eventually turned to earmarking, which is apparently the key reason many groups are involved.  Officials with one disability advocacy group, she noted, told her flat out they simply didn’t care about the public health impacts of taxes.  They were in the game solely to get some of the tax revenue steered toward their organization.

But what happens when too many groups want a piece of the pie?  There simply isn’t enough to go around.  Accordingly, Ramirez suggested groups might want to keep their coalitions just large enough to win, so each could get a bigger piece.

How does this serve public health?  It doesn’t, according to Bruce Lee Livingston of Alcohol Justice. He commented during the question and answer portion that activists are unable to get taxes high enough to actually produce positive public health benefits. Rather, he called for a charge-for-harm approach, which is based on the assumption that anyone who drinks deserves to be punished.

So there you have it.  “Public health advocates’ have two main reasons for taxing alcohol:  profit and punishment.  Somehow that simply doesn’t seem fair.

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3 Responses to “Taxing Alcohol for Profit and Punishment”
  1. Patrick says:

    This angers me…greatly.
    When did our country become so blind and lustful for money which does not belong to them?
    We do these organizations feel entitled to private individuals cash, simply because they consumer alcohol.


  2. Angela Logomasini says:

    Thanks for your comment Patrick. I assume that many of the individuals in attendance truly mean well and perhaps they think the funding is going for a greater good or something like that. And maybe not all of them agree with this approach. If others disagreed, they did remain quiet. Given that this is a partially taxpayer funded event, I expected it to be more even handed and scholarly.


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