A US study found a strong link between alcohol tax increases in 1983 and 2002 and deaths related to alcohol use in one American state.

The research was the work of Dr Alexander C Wagenaar from the University of Florida College of Medicine and colleagues and was published online ahead of print on 13 November in the American Journal of Public Health.

Wagenaar and colleagues used an integrated moving average method with interrupted time series models to compare quarterly rates of death between 1976 and 2004 in the state of Alaska to trends in other states. They also took account of nationwide trends that might be due to improved health care, or other factors.

Alaska was one of the first states to bring a sizeable tax rise on alcohol, which is partly why the researchers decided to study it.

Between 1982 and 1983 the tax on beer in Alaska went up from 46 to 63 cents a gallon, and went up again to 1.20 dollars in 2002.

The researchers found that:

  • The numbers and rates of deaths caused by alcohol-related diseases just after the 1983 and 2002 tax increases dropped significantly.
  • The size of the drop was 29 per cent in 1983 and 11 per cent in 2002.
  • These effects are nearly two to four times that of other prevention strategies such as school programs or media campaigns.
  • These short term effects did not dies off in the longer term, as tested by statistical models.

Alcohol-related diseases included for example liver disease, oral or breast cancers, and alcohol poisoning.

Wagenaar and colleagues concluded that:

“Increases in alcohol excise tax rates were associated with immediate and sustained reductions in alcohol-related disease mortality in Alaska.”

The reductions in alcohol-related deaths occurred after 2 tax increases nearly 20 years apart, they wrote, suggesting that taxing alcoholic drinks is an “effective public health strategy for reducing the burden of alcohol-related disease”.

Wagenaar said in a press release that these “findings are quite astounding”.

“A simple adjustment of the tax rate resulted in a substantial drop in the death rate,” he added.

He praised Alaska’s action to do something meaningful to reduce its alcohol problem and said he hoped the study showed “what other states could gain if they were to implement a similar tax increase”.

Wagenaar said one of the problems with alcohol tax is that many state and federal taxes on alcohol have been minor and are not adjusted for inflation so the real average dollar amount of tax on alcohol has fallen substantially since the 1950s.

“Effects of Alcohol Tax Increases on Alcohol-Related Disease Mortality in Alaska: Time-Series Analyses from 1976 to 2004”
Alexander C. Wagenaar, Mildred M. Maldonado-Molina, and Bradley H. Wagenaar.
Am J Public Health, published online ahead of print Nov 13, 2008.

Click here for Abstract.

Sources: AJPH, Business Communications.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD