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Higher Taxes on Alcohol Would Help Limit Abuse

August 05, 1990

The facts contradict the unpatriotic beer pushers' self-promoting propaganda as recounted in "Beer Industry To Pour It on Tax Hike in Ads" (July 11).

The federal excise tax of 29 cents per gallon on young males' drug of choice has not been raised since 1951. Considering inflation's effect, the real value of the federal beer tax in 1988 was only 22% of its 1951 value. Clearly, beer merchants and users have been subsidized by our shortsighted policies.

Beer is the alcohol implicated most often in the early deaths of young Americans between 15 and 24 years of age. Why should a six-pack of soft drinks cost more than a six-pack of beer, which is so cheap to make that, as shown in the Beer Institute ad depicted in the story, "you pay more for the taxes on beer than for the cost of the brewing labor and ingredients combined."

A 19% hike in the federal liquor tax in 1985 didn't make up for inflation since 1951, but it did reinforce the misconception that somehow the alcohol in beer and wine is less harmful than that in distilled spirits. The current federal rates are less than 3 cents per can of beer, less than one cent for a glass of wine and 11 cents for a shot of liquor.

The bottom-line thinking of the beer pushers is that they'll lose a sizable portion of the youth market--therefore, of future customers. But since alcohol use in adolescence is related to alcohol misuse in adult life, tax policies to prevent the onset of this behavior by adolescents can be an effective means to reduce it.

RAY CHAVIRA

The writer is on the board of the Washington-based Latino Council on Alcohol and Tobacco.

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