State Alcohol Tax Action Guide
NAS Report Recommends Raising Alcohol Excise Taxes
Next Steps to Forward the Issue in Your State
On September 10, 2003, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Institute of Medicine released its much-anticipated report to Congress recommending bold steps to address underage drinking, the nation's costliest and most neglected youth drug problem.
The report offers exciting opportunities for activists around the country to promote progressive policies on underage drinking at the federal, state and local levels. New federal leadership that focuses media, policy, and public attention on underage drinking directly strengthens community-level efforts. This action guide offers starting points for community groups to use the report to help create a local and national conversation about underage drinking.
Tax Increase Endorsed
While the report makes many recommendations to reduce underage drinking -- including a national media campaign, alcohol advertising reforms, and more funding for community-based solutions -- the most controversial may be the call for increasing alcohol excise taxes.
There are three arguments for higher taxes to combat underage drinking. First, underage drinking imposes particularly high average social costs…Second, raising excise tax rates, and hence prices, is a strategy that has strong and well-documented prevention effects on underage drinking. Third, a designated portion of the funds generated by the taxes can be earmarked for preventing and reducing underage drinking.
(Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility, pg. 242)
This is great news for activists working to increase their state's alcohol excise taxes! While we've long known we had a great case for alcohol tax increases, now we have a panel of national experts adding further weight to our efforts. Please consider taking the following, or similar, actions to draw attention to the NAS report and the need for greater alcohol taxes in your state.
1. Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Use the NAS report's release as a way to discuss your state's need for updated alcohol taxes. Talk about what needs to be done, and who needs to do it, e.g., your Governor, state legislators, community members.
2. Write an opinion piece. If your paper allows for submissions, an opinion piece provides greater visibility and a better opportunity to make your case than a letter to the editor. Tie the NAS report to your community's or state's particular needs.
3. Pitch the story to reporters. Now that federal leaders are paying increased attention to the crisis of underage drinking, call reporters you may have worked with in the past and propose a story on the federal report, combined with a look into any past or current efforts to raise the state's alcohol taxes. If there have been recent stories about the effects of underage drinking (drunk driving, accidents, arrests), remind them that this report offers scientifically based ways to reduce the incidence of these problems.
Note: If you don't have an existing relationship with the media outlet, talk to reporters who cover state fiscal policy, community activism, health, traffic safety, human interest stories, local and state policy, youth and families, or similarly related issues.
4. Request a meeting with the editorial board of your local newspaper. An editorial on the report and its local implications is a very powerful way to highlight what needs to be done to reduce underage drinking. Your job is to convince the editors that this issue is timely, relevant, and that their opinion is needed to galvanize public opinion and action. It might not be the right time to secure an endorsement of increased state alcohol taxes (e.g., legislature not in session, or editors want to review an actual bill), but you will be building a relationship with the editors. If they write about the NAS report now, you may have an easier time developing their position on future proposals like taxes.
If you'd like more guidance on how to set up and structure a visit with an editorial board, contact Amy Gotwals, Manager of Grassroots Advocacy, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-332-9110, ext. 348.
The NAS report's call for raising state excise taxes on alcohol, particularly on beer, lends fresh impetus to state tax initiatives. CSPI has a helpful citizen's action guide to raising state alcohol taxes, and substantial web and other resources to assist your campaign.
1. Send a letter to your Governor. The letter can be from an individual, a community group, or a coalition of organizations. Highlight the federal report and urge the Governor to implement the state efforts recommended in the NAS report: alcohol excise tax increases, additional funding for community mobilization efforts, and a host of enforcement and access-oriented interventions (e.g., keg registration, dram shop liability laws, sobriety check points, and social host liability laws). Make sure you emphasize your priority issues. We hope those include tax increases.
2. Contact your state legislators. Send separate letters to all your state legislators (particularly your own), again urging new or strengthened state efforts to reduce underage drinking, including state alcohol tax increases. Offer to work with the legislator to develop bills and push for legislation that your group supports. Make sure your priorities match what you asked of the Governor. If taxes are your priority, focus efforts on educating members of the finance or taxation committees.
3. Gain support from local leaders. If relevant, move your issue at the local level. For example, community mobilization, youth access, and law enforcement issues can often be addressed by local mayors, city councils, county boards, chiefs of police, or other leaders. These same constituencies can be brought in to support your state tax efforts later, so be sure you are keeping them informed of your progress.
1. Hold a community meeting. Although underage drinking is nothing new, sometimes it takes a novel hook to reach people who aren't fully aware of what needs to be done and what they can do to help. Make the release of the report the driving force behind a community meeting. The agenda might include a review of the findings of the report, local data and stories about underage drinking, and a discussion of the report's recommendations. Then, depending on your audience and the needs of your community, either 1) have the group debate and discuss how the community might respond to the recommendations, or 2) present your group's tax increase project and ask the new attendees to become involved in those efforts.
2. Recruit new allies. The fact that federal policymakers are now focusing on underage drinking provides a great opportunity for you to enlist the support of new allies. Send letters and copies of the report to, then schedule meetings with, local leaders, law enforcement officers, the PTA, teachers, merchants, religious leaders, youth groups, neighborhood associations, health advocacy groups and practitioners, prevention and treatment professionals, or whomever you need on board to make your coalition most effective. Someone initially resistant to increasing alcohol taxes may become an ally when presented with the report's evidence (and your persuasive arguments!).
3. Revive old coalitions. If your coalition hasn't been particularly active lately, use the report's policy recommendations to revitalize the group. Alcohol tax fights are long and hard battles, and it's easy to feel defeated and fatigued. Perhaps this report will give folks a glimmer of fresh hope, and enough energy to try again.
Please contact Amy Gotwals, Manager of Grassroots Advocacy, for further information and guidance: email@example.com or 202-332-9110, ext. 348.
For more information, please send us an email.
Center for Science in the Public Interest
Alcohol Policies Project
1220 L St. NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202-332-9110 * Fax: 202-265-4954 * Web: www.cspinet.org/booze