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Public Health and Sin Taxes

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Interesting story here about the rise in alcohol related deaths in Oregon. Little in here is particularly surprising. Oregon is a great place to drink, the state caters to the alcohol industry given that it is an international center for both beer and wine (and I guess some decent distilleries too but I don’t know as much about that and the little bit of it that I’ve had I’d say is more OK than great). Plus you have the rise of the formerly illicit drug industry in Oregon, not only the enormous cannabis industry but with the legalization of mushrooms and decriminalization of about everything else, there’s a lot in the state riding on being a place where people can take substances. Alcohol related deaths are rising everywhere to some extent and the pandemic increased this for obvious reasons. I certainly had to cut back after the pandemic, realizing that I was drinking too much. It affected many of us in this way. As for Oregon, it has no sales tax period, and other alcohol taxes are low. Any rise in these taxes leads to the predictable outcry from the alcohol industry and many liberals who are pro-tax on most issues are very anti-tax when it comes to raising the price of their booze.

The question about all of this is the old question of whether prohibition or other incentives against substances are effective measures in reducing their use. To some extent, the answer is yes. If you are Norway, with its $15 beers because the taxes are exceedingly high precisely to reduce consumption and improve public health, then yeah, it will probably have an impact. That’s unlikely in the United States. We’ve also seen in the War on Drugs just how utterly ineffective it’s all been, even with the zillions of dollars of resources thrown at it both in terms of locking up an entire generation of Black men and turning Latin America into an endless war zone.

These are public health problems and not only are public health problems hard to solve, but it becomes easy to default into criminalizing behavior and that doesn’t work.

Incidentally, the above picture is one I took of a beer at Barbarian Brewing in Boise, which I very highly recommend.

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