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Can Higher Alcohol Taxes Save Lives?

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Last year, 2,153 Oregon residents died of causes attributed to alcohol, according to the Oregon Health Authority. That’s more than twice the number of people killed by methamphetamines, heroin and fentanyl combined.

To combat this toll, the U.S. Community Preventive Services Task Force, an independent group of experts, has endorsed measures to deter excess drinking, including raising the price of alcohol, reports the New York Times.

The state’s tax rates are among the lowest in the country, despite having among the highest prevalence of problem drinking in the nation. Even as alcohol-related deaths soared nationally to record highs (140,000 in 2020) in the last few years, alcohol taxes have fallen to the lowest rates in a generation.

As a share of average household income, a can of Budweiser in 2010 cost one-fifth of what it did in 1950 after adjusting for inflation, one study calculated, and the cheapest available liquor cost one-fifteenth the price.

A large body of evidence shows that higher alcohol taxes are associated with less excessive drinking and lower rates of disease and injury deaths. Last year Oregon advocates proposed a bill increasing alcohol taxes, but the alcohol industry, which has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into local politics, blocked it.

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