Opinion
March 12, 2015

Increase taxes on liquor, tobacco

Dear Editor,

As the Vermont Legislature considers its budget deficit, a viable alternative is to increase the sales tax on liquor and tobacco. Vermont presently has the lowest sales tax on liquor in the nation. With these increased taxes Vermont can close its budget gap, save money in social services, and improve the health and welfare of thousands of children and adults in the state.

Many studies investigating such a relationship found that alcohol prices were a major factor influencing alcohol consumption among youth and young adults and lowering the frequency of diseases, injuries and death, violence and crime. Taxes on alcohol and tobacco have been enacted mainly with the intent of increasing revenues, rather than discouraging negative health effects.

Presently, the major policy element of U.S. programs to deter teenage and young adult drinking has been to increase state minimum legal drinking ages (MLDAs). (It is ironic to hear important officials in the Shumlin administration requesting that the age limit for buying beer, wine, and alcohol be lowered from 21 to 18.)

Some facts from recent studies Legislators should consider:

Fatal motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death of people under the age of 35, and alcohol is involved in more than one-half of these fatal crashes. Of these fatal accidents, 75 to 90 percent of drivers killed between 12 a.m. and 3:59 a.m. were estimated to have been drinking.

A National Health Interview Survey estimated that a 10-percent increase in the price of alcoholic beverages would reduce the probability of drinking and driving by about 7.4 percent for men and 8.1 percent for women.

A 25-cent increase in the beer tax could reduce work-loss days from nonfatal workplace injuries by 4.6 million, reducing the costs of lost productivity by $491 million nationwide.

Increases in the price of alcoholic beverages would reduce suicides and deaths from diseases for which alcohol is a contributing factor. There would also be significant reductions in rapes, robberies, child abuse and wife abuse.

A ten percent price increase on alcohol and beer would:

Lower the number of students who get into trouble with the police and college authorities

Lower the number of students involved in property damage

Lower the number of students who get into verbal or physical fights

Lower the number of students involved in sexual misconduct

Raise the likelihood of high school graduation and lead to higher grade point averages

Increase the probability of attending and graduating from a four year college or university

Improve high school and college student study habits; reduce frequency of missing classes and the likelihood of falling behind in school.

A ten percent price increase on tobacco would:

Reduce smoking prevalence among youth by nearly 7 percent.

Reduce tobacco smoke’s harmful affects to smokers and nonsmokers. (Cigarette smoking causes many types of cancer, including cancers of the lung, esophagus, larynx (voice box), mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, stomach, and cervix, as well as acute myeloid leukemia.)

Additionally, money not spent on alcohol and tobacco would be spent on other goods and services, creating gains in employment as tobacco consumption falls.

Instead of eliminating budget items that improve the quality of life in our state, this proposal aims to increase the taxation of liquor and tobacco, thereby improving the quality of life, health and happiness of thousands of citizens in Vermont.

Offie Wortham, Johnson, Vt.

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