Does cheap liquor kill?

When Illinois raised its alcohol taxes, road deaths went down. It’s that simple.So says a study in the American Journal of Public Health. The study, by a team of researchers at the University of Florida,  noted that after an increase in tax on beer, wine and spirits in 2009, alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes dropped 26 percent. For young drivers, the decrease was an impressive 37 percent.

The researcher’s conclusion: if taxes were raised nationwide, thousands of lives could be saved each year.

This revelation won’t startle people who have been following the research. For years the link between increased taxes on alcohol and reduced consumption – and corresponding reduced alcoholism and health effects – has been known.

This study, however, links the rise in taxes directly to road deaths.

So how influential are liquor prices on alcohol consumption, and resultant traffic disasters?

Consider this: a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that an extremely heavy drinker – one consuming 10 drinks a day – would use up half his or her income in 1950. Today, that drinker would need only 3% of his or her salary. That means the economic incentive for changing drinking habits is effectively gone. Taxes are the only way to compensate for an all-you-can-drink alcohol market. And taxes have not kept up with inflation.

If the evidence that higher alcohol taxes are a social good is mounting, where are the objections coming from?

Predictably, the alcohol industry doesn’t accept the conclusions. The Distilled Spirits Council of the US points out that “alcohol abusers are not deterred by higher prices.  It is the moderate, responsible consumers who are most sensitive to prices …”

Once again, the booze industry publicizes the myth that there are just two types of drinkers: “hard core,” whose behavior is unchangeable, and the “moderates,” who suffer when laws come down on the first group. In fact, alcohol abuse is a complex social problem which can be affected by many policies and actions.

We know that low alcohol prices help no one but the alcohol industry. They attract young drinkers, harm public health, and – we now know – cause death on the roads.