Prevention coordinator, the OASIS coalition, a Stoughton group working against substance abuse
In 2013, underage drinking cost Massachusetts’s taxpayers $1.2 billion -- an average of $1,834 per underage drinker -- according to a report by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. This does not include some of the personal costs that young people are more susceptible to as a result of underage drinking; including poor academic performance.
One of the most effective ways to reduce these monetary and societal costs is to prevent abusive drinking patterns and postpone the age at which a person begins drinking.
Because the human brain is not fully developed until well into a person’s 20s, individuals who drink prior to age 21 are at significantly greater risk for substance-use disorders than those who wait until they reach the legal drinking age.
Effectively addressing underage drinking has historically been a challenge in this country. This is a complicated societal issue, with no one single solution; however, one of the most sustainable, long-term public health strategies to prevent underage drinking is tax policy change.
The Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization are among a number of health organizations that recommend increasing alcohol taxes as a way to reduce underage drinking and other alcohol-related problems.
Research suggests that youth are price-sensitive and that raising the price of alcohol has a direct impact on drinking among 16- to 21-year-olds. Furthermore, increased taxes on alcohol have been associated with higher college graduation rates and fewer fatal car accidents.
Increasing alcohol taxes can provide a revenue stream for substance-abuse prevention or for the mitigation of costs related to the consequences of alcohol consumption. Currently, Massachusetts has among the lowest excise tax rates for beer, wine, and distilled spirits in the nation, according to a study by the Tax Foundation in 2016, and is one of only five states in the country that does not apply sales tax to alcohol.
Increasing the price of alcohol, when combined with other prevention strategies, including teaching prevention in the schools, setting clear rules and expectations at home, and enforcing the relevant laws, can reduce the harms from underage drinking.
Owner of Mayflower Brewing Co. in Plymouth; board member, Massachusetts Brewers Guild
Massachusetts residents have already shown their sentiments about increasing taxes on alcohol.
In the 2010 state election, the effort to repeal the state’s newly-imposed 6.25 percent sales tax on alcohol was the only ballot measure to prevail, and it was overwhelmingly backed by Massachusetts communities bordering New Hampshire.
As a brewery owner, I pay federal and state tax on the craft beer we produce. Increasing taxes at the state level would cause brewers to raise prices on the consumer, which would ultimately mean less beer bought by patrons, and a resulting loss of business for all those involved in the industry -- craft brewers, barley farmers, hop growers, equipment and supply manufacturers, distributors, truck drivers, retailers, restaurants, and pubs.
A higher tax burden would also stifle innovation by brewers and result in fewer products in the marketplace. Today, there are 122 breweries across the Commonwealth that employ nearly 3,000 locals and contribute to travel and tourism to our state. In 2014, according to the Brewers Association, Massachusetts craft beer had a $1.4 billion economic impact with brewers producing about 611,341 barrels. An additional 30 breweries are slated to open later this year, and the Massachusetts Brewers Guild reports that it is constantly fielding calls from towns and cities looking for entrepreneurs and brewers to bring a brewery or brewpub to their neighborhoods.
The craft beer industry is helping to revitalize downtown communities and bring back manufacturing jobs. My company, Mayflower Brewing, alone employs 25 locals at our brewery in Plymouth.
A higher taxed product will only send craft beer lovers across the borders to neighboring states. The consequence will be more businesses closed, more jobs lost, and less revenue collected in the form of income, sales, use, and alcohol excise taxes. It is not an effective way to encourage responsible consumption or to support a growing industry in Massachusetts.
Overconsumption of alcohol is a societal problem that has always existed. But tax policy is not the appropriate way to change behavior. Raising taxes will not prevent bad actors from consuming too much. It will only punish responsible drinkers with higher prices.
Last week’s argument: Should Massachusetts adopt legislation establishing an automatic voter registration system?
Yes: 88 percent (58 votes)
No: 12 percent (8 votes)
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at email@example.com.