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How to Fix America's Other Drug Problem | NYT Opinion

NYT, 06 May 2023
The Opinion Video above is about a drug problem — but not the one you may think. While the United States struggles to deal with the opioid crisis, there’s a quieter drug epidemic that has been unfolding for a lot longer. It involves a substance that was normalized long ago but that, by some measures, plays a role in more than 140,000 deaths a year.

It’s alcohol.

But don’t worry. We here at Opinion Video are not a bunch of temperance reformers coming to take away your six-packs and single malts. We just think there’s a lot more that American lawmakers could be doing to lessen the harm that alcohol causes.

Sure, the government has set limits on how, where, when and to whom alcohol can be sold. But there’s another highly effective measure that officials have largely ignored: tax increases.

This isn’t a new idea. Yet alcohol taxes have remained stubbornly stagnant.

Alcohol taxes are typically excise taxes imposed on producers and sellers, who generally pass along those costs to consumers. But excise tax rates are based on a fixed amount per volume of alcohol. So, unless lawmakers periodically increase them, the rates can quickly lose value because of inflation.

As a result, researchers say, the costs of alcohol-related harm — including expenses related to health care, law enforcement and losses in workplace productivity — have dwarfed alcohol tax revenues.

Philip J. Cook, a Duke University professor emeritus and an expert on alcohol policy, says the solution is higher taxes. “The goal is not prohibition, but moderation,” he writes in his book “Paying the Tab.” “Alcoholic beverages are too cheap for our own good.”

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