Across the country in the last year, and particularly now that the economy's downward spiral has left states cash-strapped and desperate, governors, legislatures and mayors have proposed or implemented a slew of sin taxes: Just in New York, the city has contemplated a plastic bag tax and the state has considered a soft drink tax dubbed the "obesity tax."
The appeal of this kind of tax, if "appeal" is the right word, is that they are designed to at once raise revenue for social services, and to influence society's behavior in positive directions. A plastic bag tax should reduce the use of plastic bags, which will reduce the demand for the petroleum use to make them, and reduce the litter that results when they are tossed off after toting home your Twinkies. A tax on soft drinks or junk food should make them less appealing, and hopefully make some gains against the epidemic of obesity that costs the U.S. healthcare system so many billions of dollars, and costs so many Americans their quality of life.
Now, comes a study by the University of Florida and published in the journal Addiction that suggests these types of sin taxes may work -- even for purchase of substances people may be highly addicted to. The meta-analysis examined the results of many studies done on the topic, to synthesize their findings.
Put simply, the more alcohol costs, the less likely people are to drink, and "when they do drink, they drink less," according to the journal.
"Results from over 100 separate studies reporting over 1,000 distinct statistical estimates are remarkably consistent, and show without doubt that alcohol taxes and prices affect drinking," Alexander C. Wagenaar, a professor of epidemiology and health policy research at the University of Florida College of Medicine, and the senior author of the study, said in a prepared statement. "When prices go down, people drink more, and when prices go up, people drink less."
The results, he said, suggest not only that this sin tax works, but that it's more effective than any other strategy for reducing alcoholism: more effective than law enforcement, more effective than media campaigns, more effective than school program.
No one likes taxes. But when it comes to the enormity of solving the global warming crisis, shifting real people's behaviors will be essential. It may be that sin taxes are one way to make progress.
... And if so, which eco-sin taxes should be tried first? Share your thoughts by commenting below.
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