Could Higher Taxes Affect Binge Drinking?

By Beth Leipholtz 12/27/18

A new op-ed makes the case that higher taxation could reduce excess drinking. 

people in the middle of binge drinking

Decreasing the amount of binge drinking in the country could be as simple as increasing taxes, according to a recent piece by The Washington Post editorial board.

The board notes that 60 years ago, about 40% of American adults smoked cigarettes, whereas fewer than 20% do today. According to the board, this decrease has to do with the increase in cigarette taxes — and binge drinking should be treated in a similar manner. 

The board cites a Johns Hopkins study from this year, which examined two tax increases in the state of Maryland. One was a 50% increase in alcohol sales tax in 2011 (bringing it to 9%), and the other was doubling the excise tax on a pack of cigarettes, bringing it to $2. In both cases, the board writes, consumption of the products went down quickly.

“Opponents of such increases are often quick to denounce nanny-state politics, but government has a responsibility to promote public health,” the Post board wrote. “Cigarette and alcohol consumption exact a terrible toll, and not just on users; witness the impact of binge drinking on families and children, not to mention the carnage on the nation’s highways attributable to drunken driving.”

More specifically, the study determined that in Maryland in 2015, retailers sold about 30% fewer packs of cigarettes than in 2007, which was the year before the excise tax was put into effect. Researchers determined that much of that decrease came quickly after the price increase. The change also affected minors, as researchers state teens who said they had smoked at least one time in the past 30 days decreased in that same span of eight years. 

When it came to the increase in alcohol tax, the results were similar. According to the editorial board, researchers in another study examining police crash reports in Maryland found that the number of teenagers in alcohol-related crashes decreased by 12% annually in 11 years from the tax increase. Among drivers as a whole, the decrease was 6% annually. 

The Johns Hopkins study also determined that alcohol intake decreased, as researchers said adult binge drinking in the state dropped by 17%, five years after the alcohol tax was enacted. 

According to the board, those who oppose such increases may not be thinking about the whole picture. 

“Among the arguments from opponents of such taxes is that they fall disproportionately on low- and middle-income people,” the board writes. “That’s true. It is also true that by reducing consumption (which weighs on wallets), they relieve the burden of long-term health care costs on those same people. That’s part of the compelling argument for public-health taxes, and why lawmakers are justified in imposing them.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.