According to a new report from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH), alcohol’s health, safety and economic costs to Bay State residents far outweigh the revenue from state alcohol taxes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol kills an average of 2,760 people each year. The leading causes included 641 poisoning deaths, 350 alcoholic liver disease deaths, 294 alcohol-related cancer deaths, and 211 liver cirrhosis deaths.
From 2009 to 2019, alcohol-related death and disability rates rose by 13.8 percent; It’s faster than lung cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, dietary concerns or tobacco use. Nearly two in five (38%) people in Massachusetts reported increased drinking during the epidemic, while nationally, alcohol consumption increased by 25.5% from 2019 to 2020.
Meanwhile, the state’s alcohol taxes have lost 72% of their value in real dollars since they were last collected and now amount to less than a nickel per drink. The CDC estimated that alcohol problems cost the state $5.6 billion in 2010, the latest year for which estimates are available. Of this, $2.26 billion (or $345 per person and $77 per drink) was paid directly by governments.
“Alcohol is clearly not paying its way in the Bay State,” said Representative Kay Kahn (D-11).Th Middlesex District), in response to the report. Rep. Khan has repeatedly introduced bills in the legislature to increase the state’s alcohol tax. “Our tax on alcohol is outdated, but alcohol problems continue to increase.”
Massachusetts has a reputation for strict alcohol policies and high taxes, but according to the report, this is not true. While Bay State drinkers drink and drink more than the national average, the state’s alcohol policies rank 17.Th They are within the limits of the 50 states and are lagging behind other states and moving in restrictive directions.
Massachusetts has five times more licenses for bars and restaurants than New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Of the 16 states that set quotas on retail alcohol outlets, three—Montana, South Dakota and Washington state—are more generous with these licenses than the Bay State.
And the state’s beer and wine taxes are the lowest of the New England states, with the exception of New Hampshire, which sells spirits at a discount in state-run stores, and its tax on pregnant spirits is lower than all of its neighbors.
Alcohol policies in Massachusetts are often discussed from a business perspective. Health and safety data tell a different story about alcohol and should be part of the policy debate.
David Jernigan, the report leader and professor of health law, policy and management at BUSPH
Binge drinking — four or more drinks for women or five or more drinks in two hours for men — is the most common and costly cause of excess alcohol in the U.S., according to the CDC. In Massachusetts, binge drinking is common among the general population and among underage drinkers: 44% of current (past-30 days) drinkers age 12 and older and 63% of underage drinkers (12-20 years) in the past month.
“Massachusetts has such a high rate of youth overdoses that is very troubling,” said Sen. Jason Lewis, chairman of the Senate Joint Committee on Education and former chairman of the Senate Joint Committee on Public Health. “This is related to the easy and widespread availability of cheap alcohol, and it is a public health issue that I hope we will address in the new legislative session.”
The report was sponsored by Xixi Zhou, BUSPH Public Health Candidate, and funded by the BUSPH Think Tank.