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Task Force Recommends Increasing Alcohol Taxes to Prevent Excessive Alcohol Use and Other Harms

The U.S. Community Preventive Services Task Force (Task Force) recommends alcohol excise taxes for public health purposes to reduce alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms, such as alcohol-impaired driving, motor vehicle crashes and fatalities, and deaths from cirrhosis of the liver.

Alcohol excise taxes on beer, wine or spirits are implemented by state and federal governments to raise revenue, reduce alcohol-related harms, or both. The Task Force recommends increasing the unit price of alcohol by raising taxes, based on strong evidence of effectiveness for reducing excessive alcohol consumption and related harms.

The Task Force—a nonfederal volunteer group of public health and prevention experts appointed by the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—bases its findings on systematic reviews of published scientific studies of what works to promote public health. The Community Guide conducts these state-of-the-art reviews that:

  • Analyze all available scientific evidence on what works to promote health and prevent disease, injury and disability
  • Assess the economic benefits of the interventions found to be effective
  • Identify critical evidence gaps

Community Guide review teams are led or supported by Community Guide scientists, and include government, academic, policy, and practice-based partners. This review included 72 studies that looked at the relationship between tax rates or total price on measures related to excessive alcohol consumption or related harms.

The effect of price on alcohol consumption is expressed as "price elasticity" or the expected percentage change in alcohol consumption when the price is increased by 1%. Estimated price elasticities for different types of alcohol are:

  • Beer consumption: -0.50, which means beer consumption would be expected to decrease 5% for every 10% increase in price.
  • Wine consumption: -0.64, which means wine consumption would be expected to decrease 6.4% for every 10% increase in price.
  • Spirits consumption: -0.79, which means spirits consumption would be expected to decrease 7.9% for every 10% increase in price.
  • Total alcohol (ethanol) consumption: -0.77, which means total alcohol consumption would be expected to decrease 7.7% for every 10% increase in price.

Excessive alcohol use—the third leading lifestyle-related cause of preventable death in the United States—can lead to many health and societal problems among adult and underage drinkers, such as liver disease and motor vehicle crashes. Around 5% of the total U.S. populations are heavy drinkers and about 15% are binge drinkers (CDC), defined as:

  • Heavy Drinking – An average of more that 2 drinks per day for men or an average of more than one drink per day for women
  • Binge Drinking – During a single occasion, drinking 5 or more drinks for men or 4 or more drinks for women.

Visit Preventing Excessive Alcohol Use: Increasing Alcohol Taxes to learn more about this recommendation and related findings.

You can learn more about other Community Guide systematic reviews, including additional reviews specific to alcohol consumption by visiting Community Guide topics.