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Indiana's state death rate may be influenced by state alcohol taxes.

From 2001 to 2005 alone, an average of 1,507 Hoosiers died each year from alcohol-related causes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recently, research has found that many of these deaths could have been prevented with higher alcohol tax rates.

The American Journal of Public Health released a study Thursday that found alcohol-related deaths dropped significantly when a state raised its alcohol tax rates.

The study compared Alaska’s alcohol tax rate with alcohol-related deaths like cirrhosis, a liver disease. Over a 30-year period, Alexander Wagenaar, an epidemiologist for the University of Florida, concluded that deaths dropped almost 30 percent when the alcohol tax rate was raised.

Wagenaar’s study suggests if Indiana legislators raise the tax on alcohol, it could help save lives. Currently, Indiana’s beer tax is $.12, which is lower than the national average of $.26. Wine and liquor taxes are also drastically lower and haven’t been changed since 1981.

Former state representative Joe Micon said one reason alcohol tax laws haven’t changed in the past 25 years is because beer lobbyists fight vigorously to keep the tax in place. Legislators often feel the pressure.

Although lobbyists and retailers say a tax increase would hurt retail businesses, Micon said the money could be spent to benefit Hoosiers.

“I don’t believe for a moment that the alcohol industry would be harmed by a reasonable alcohol tax increase, nor do I believe that consumers would be significantly harmed either,” he said. “I believe that a benefit would come from those funds, especially if they were invested in alcohol treatment programs or back into the state budget.”

John Livengood, the president of Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, wrote in an e-mail that there are better ways of regulating the sale of alcohol besides raising the alcohol tax.

“Alcohol is already one of the most heavily taxed consumer items,” he said. “I find it hard to believe that those who abuse alcohol will stop drinking if the price goes up … those with a problem will find a way to get it.”

State Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Wheatfield, said regardless of the legislation subject, motivations for change need to be considered. Typically, laws are passed to either collect revenue or influence behavior. He questions alcohol tax laws being the causal link to death rate.

“We need to look to see if the policy is really the problem with alcohol related deaths, or if it is related to other issues, like drunk-driving laws.”

With the election season over, Hershman said new bills related to alcohol tax might been seen in the near future. The last time Indiana legislators proposed a tax increase was in 2005. The bill made it through the House and received the endorsement of the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee before it was eliminated by the Senate. Had the bill passed, the tax on beer would have almost doubled.

source:  Purdue Exponent

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