…from “Liquor Taxes and Sexually Transmitted Infections” by Nicholas Bakalar in the December 17, 2015 issue of the New York Times:
Maryland increased its liquor taxes in 2011 and a sharp decrease in the rate of new gonorrhea infections immediately followed. Researchers have determined that the two events are closely linked.
The study, in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, used three control groups to exclude other explanations for the decline. The first control group included all states that did not change alcohol taxes. The second group looked at states that did not share a border with Maryland, in order to avoid bias from people buying liquor in nearby states where the taxes were lower. And the third group eliminated states in which the government has a monopoly on hard liquor sales, since prices may rise in those states even without an increase in taxes.
In 2011, the Maryland liquor tax rose to 9 percent from 6 percent. After the increase, Maryland’s gonorrhea rate declined by 24 percent — the equivalent of 1,600 cases per year. There was no decrease in the control states.
The authors suggest that decreased alcohol consumption decreases sexual risk-taking, including unprotected sex, casual sex and sex with new partners.
“Policy makers should consider raising liquor taxes if they’re looking for ways to prevent sexually transmitted infections,” said the lead author, Stephanie A.S. Staras, an assistant professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine. “In the year and a half following the alcohol tax rise in Maryland, this prevented 2,400 cases of gonorrhea and saved half a million dollars in health care costs.”
Here is Gonorrhea rates from 2004 – notice a decade long downward trend that started long before the new alcohol tax:
How about this, from the abstract for the study:
Regardless of the control group that was considered, results showed no significant changes in chlamydia cases following the tax increase overall (Table 1) or within subgroups.
So, an existing downward trend in gonorrhea continued, and there was no change to chlamydia. Based on that “Policy makers should consider raising liquor taxes if they’re looking for ways to prevent sexually transmitted infections”?
Postscript: In case you read through the story, and abstract for the study and were wondering, as I was, if alcohol consumption even went down after the tax increase, here is some data:
Per Capita consumption of Alcoholic Beverages in Maryland by Year
But, not all ‘beverages’ are created equal, so here is consumption of ALCOHOL – assuming ABV of 5% for beer, 13.5% for wine, and 40% for liquor. Consumption goes down starting in 2011, the year of the tax increase. If the decrease were solely explained by the tax, I would expect it to be a one time drop that leveled off in 2013. The decline between 2010 isn’t quite as precipitous as it appears in the graph (scale matters), but it is 8 onces of alcohol difference per capita – that’s 20 onces of liquor, or 13 beers, or two and a half bottles of wine. It is only a 1.3% decline in alcohol consumed per capita between 2010 and 2012.