In the Doghouse

In the Doghouse

Rhode Island Bill to Eliminate Alcohol Sales Tax on Holidays

April 3, 2012

rhode-islandIn these tough budget times, Rhode Island legislators have introduced a bill that will decrease state revenue and contribute to alcohol-related harm. RI House Bill 7725 would remove the state sales tax on alcohol for days surrounding select holidays including Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Winter Holidays. In all, the bill would provide for 66 days of alcohol-tax-free sales each year – and make it easy for drinkers in Rhode Island to buy an entire year's supply of alcohol without paying a dime in sales tax on it.

Why would Rhode Island, a state facing massive budget shortfalls and the possibility of extreme budget cuts, want to reduce taxes on one of the few items that most Americans agree should be taxed more heavily? In addition to extreme pressure from alcohol industry lobbyists, the answer is likely related to “competition” with neighboring states like Massachusetts, which eliminated the sales tax on alcohol in 2010, and Connecticut, which is also trying to dismantle alcohol regulations. These so-called "competitive advantages" come with large costs to the public's health and wallet, as alcohol-related harm is inversely correlated with price.
Before Rhode Island legislators move House Bill 7725 any further, they should consider the health and fiscal impact that removing the alcohol sales tax for nearly a fifth of the year will have on their state. Increasing the price of alcohol has the win-win effect of both increasing state funding and decreasing alcohol-related harm, and this bill does exactly the opposite. What's next? Eliminating the sales tax on alcohol for weeks surrounding the Super Bowl?

Chicago Transit Authority Sells Out Public Health for Alcohol Ads

March 20, 2012
CTAIn an attempt at a budget band-aid, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) recently voted to ditch its 15-year ban on alcohol advertising on rail cars and stations. The CTA has agreed to allow up to 30 ‘L’ cars to be outfitted with alcohol-related ads at any given time. Ads will also be placed in various rail stations. In return, the CTAprojects it will get $3.2 million in revenue from Big Alcohol--to close a $277 million shortfall in its budget.

Outdoor advertising exposes youth to a deluge of alcohol ads on a repeated basis. In particular, ads on public transit are a favorite of the alcohol industry because of their broad public exposure. Restrictions on alcohol advertising are necessary to reduce youth exposure. And the research is clear: the more alcohol ads young people see, the younger they start drinking, the more likely they are to drink, and the more those young drinkers consume. 

CTA President Forrest Claypool tried to justify the move, calling their decision "responsible" because the ads won’t be posted in rail stations close to schools, must declare the legal drinking age in Illinois, and must warn about the potential dangers of alcohol consumption. Sounds like the CTA has no problems putting alcohol ads in the neighborhoods where kids get on the rail cars to go to school, after-school care, or work. There is nothing responsible about increasing youth exposure to alcohol ads. Warning labels about legal drinking age or potential dangers are not an evidence-based policy to reduce consumption and related harm. Labels also won't block the messages the industry intends its ads to send: Buy--and drink--this alcohol product.  

In addition, the CTA's decision to ditch its longstanding commitment to public health for alcohol ads is shortsighted. The expected $3 million in revenue is a measly drop in the bucket (less than 1%) of the CTA’s$1.24 billion operating budget for 2012. That, plus the increased costs to Chicago residents due to increases in alcohol consumption and related harm, will far outweigh any temporary budget relief the CTA may seek to gain.

Chicago’s young people deserve to ride to school, work, and social activities without being blanketed in promotional messages from alcohol corporations. The CTA should keep its 15-year ban on alcohol ads, and find another way to close its budget gap--one that won't endanger Chicago’s youth.

Utah Bill: State Alcohol Control Commissioners Must Drink

UTAHbillMarch 6, 2012

In a ridiculous example of the extent to which legislators will go to deregulate state alcohol control, Utah Representative Brian Doughty (D-Salt Lake City) has introduced a bill mandating that at least two of the five Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission members drink alcohol at least once a month. Since when are government regulators required to consume or use the product they’re regulating? (Cigarettes? Lottery tickets? Prescription drugs?) They aren't, and shouldn't be--with good reasons.

As stated by the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, “the purpose of alcohol control in Utah is to make liquor available to those adults who choose to drink responsibly, but not to promote the sale of liquor. By keeping liquor out of the private marketplace, no economic incentives are created to maximize sales, open more liquor stores or sell to underage persons.” Utah's liquor laws, such as correctly classifying youth-marketed alcopops as distilled spirits, serve to protect public health. It is sound policy that does not need to be"fixed." 

Promoting so-called “progressive” liquor laws in Utah has been one of Doughty's causes since he was elected. This is part of a long-term strategy to hand over Utah’s state liquor control to private enterprise, and Utah’s public health, safety, and revenue stream along with it. Privatization proponents such as Doughty argue that it will benefit drinkers by improving the price and availability of alcohol. But if they had the well-being of the state and its residents in mind, they would be thinking about the increased harm and societal costs that come with decreased state control of alcohol.

Rep. Doughty has it wrong: people aren't being regulated, a potentially dangerous product is. Regulators don't have to drink alcohol in order to understand the harmful effects it can have on society, and effective policies to reduce its harm.