Sunday, November 16, 2008

Death and Taxes

You can't avoid them. But sometimes more of one means less of the other.

CNN reports:

Higher taxes on alcohol can make a night out more expensive but could save lives, according to a study released Thursday.

Each time the state of Alaska raised its alcoholic beverage tax, fewer deaths were caused by or related to alcohol, according to the study that examined 28 years of data.

When Alaska raised its alcohol tax in 1983, deaths caused by or related to alcohol dropped 29 percent. A 2002 tax increase was followed by an 11 percent reduction, according to the study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

"Increasing alcohol taxes saves lives; that's the bottom line," said the study's lead author, Dr. Alexander Wagenaar, a professor at the University of Florida's Department of Epidemiology and Health Policy Research....

"No other state in recent years has increased alcohol taxes in the way that Alaska did in 2002," Wagenaar said. "Basically, they conducted the experiment, and we studied it."...

Nearly half of the states have had the same alcohol taxes for more than 20 years, and Wyoming hasn't raised its tax on alcohol since the 1930s, thus not keeping up with inflation.

Update: A reader points out that the relationship between death and taxes may not be monotonic, as suggested by a story from 2006:

SCORES of Russians have died and more than 900 have been treated in hospital after drinking home-brewed spirits and illicit substances, following the introduction of a new tax on vodka.

Rising prices of legitimate spirits have created a booming market in illegal vodka and a range of substitutes including lighter fluid, cleaning fluid and industrial alcohol.