Executive director, Greater Lowell Health Alliance
Today, when someone says “substance abuse,” the first thing many people think of is opiates. But there is another form of substance misuse and abuse that we as health professionals have been fighting for well over 30 years: alcohol.
Have we forgotten about the data presented in the 2015 Youth Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System? The federal report found that there was only a 1.8 percent decrease in the number of Massachusetts youths aged 12-20 who reported binge or excessive drinking or chronic drinking from 2010-2014. It also showed that Massachusetts’ rates in 2013-2014 were almost four percent above the national average. The “adult version” of the report found that 361,000 residents over the age of 21 reported excessive alcohol use.
Excessive drinking has serious consequences. One in three car accidents in the United States involves drunk driving, and according to American Health Rankings, an average of 2.5 million years of potential life were lost annually due to excessive drinking from 2006-2010. Binge drinking also puts a strain the economy. In 2010 the median cost of excessive drinking was about $5.6 billion in Massachusetts. Whether an individual participates in excessive drinking or not, we all pay.
So how do we reduce the excessive drinking rate and the drain on our wallets? One of the strategies recommended by a federal task force in 2015 was to increase the tax on alcohol. The research suggests that there is an indirect link between the cost of alcohol and the number of deaths and injuries that are related to alcohol use. Simply put, “for every 10 percent increase in price, alcohol consumption is expected to decrease by more than 7 percent,” the task force said.
Massachusetts’ alcohol tax rates are seventh-lowest in the country for beer, and 17th- and 19th- lowest for distilled spirits and wine, respectively. By raising the taxes, we could reduce excessive alcohol use and rates of mortality related to drunk driving.
The added state revenue from higher taxes could be directed to alcohol abuse prevention education and social-emotion wellness programs for young people. Alcoholism is a disorder, not a behavioral choice. By investing in programs that will teach children the skills they need to develop self-confidence, self-affrmation and self-efficacy, the community is directly investing in the potential of every child.
Owner, Kappy’s Fine Wines & Spirits, Everett
Next time you’re in New Hampshire, take a spin through one of the state liquor store parking lots and pay special attention to the number of Massachusetts license plates you see. Every time a Massachusetts resident shops in our neighboring state, the Commonwealth loses money through lower business and payroll taxes paid by Massachusetts businesses, and lower alcohol excise taxes collected from the Commonwealth’s liquor, wine, and beer wholesalers.
Now, Beacon Hill is entertaining a proposal to shift more revenue to New Hampshire, by raising alcohol excise taxes here in Massachusetts. People heading over the border to shop is a longstanding problem for Massachusetts, but the state seems all too eager to not only exacerbate the problem but to do so on the backs of the Commonwealth’s lower-income residents, who tend to be the hardest hit by ultra-regressive taxes like excise taxes.
Taxes are termed “regressive” when they take a larger portion of the incomes of lower-income people than of wealthier ones. Alcohol and other so-called “sin” taxes are especially regressive because they target populations that have lower levels of income on average than the population at large.
Past efforts in Massachusetts to squeeze more tax revenue from alcohol sales have failed. For example, in 2009 the Legislature enacted a law to impose an additional tax on alcohol sales on top of the excise tax. Voters overturned that law in a statewide referendum in 2010, recognizing not only the inherent unfairness of adding a new tax on top of existing tax, but also the foolishness of creating incentives to export Massachusetts business and state revenue.
The fact is that the tax rate on alcohol in Massachusetts is just right the way it is. The Commonwealth enjoys a robust and competitive marketplace, and yet the current taxes and regulations governing the sale of alcohol have produced the nation’s second-best record on limiting driving under the influence, and one of the nation’s lowest death rate for fatalities resulting from DUI according to an analysis by BackgroundCheck.org. Proponents of an excise tax increase are well-meaning, and claim the increased revenue will provide additional services for residents of the Commonwealth. But there will be no increased revenue if taxes rise and people are increasingly forced to cross the state border to shop.
Yes: 71.79% (84 votes)
No: 28.21% (33 votes)
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.