Feb 13, 2023 - Food and Drink

Beacon Hill lawmakers plan booze crackdown

Illustration of the Massachusetts State House with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Some state lawmakers want to crack down on binge drinking by raising taxes on the vice to help pay for alcohol-related care.

Why it matters: Booze caused nearly 5% of all deaths in Mass. between 2015 and 2019 and killed an average of 2,760 of the state’s residents each year during that time, according to a December report.

  • That's 641 alcohol poisonings per year,
  • 350 liver disease victims,
  • 294 alcohol-attributable cancer deaths,
  • And 211 deaths by liver cirrhosis.

The report, written by Boston University School of Public Health's David Jernigan and public health master's candidate Xixi Zhou, estimates the state and local governments paid $2.26 billion for alcohol-related problems in 2010, the last year data was available.

  • The findings factor in estimates for lost productivity, property damage, health care costs, criminal justice costs and other expenses.

Yes, but: Alcohol only brought in $78.6 million in state funds in 2020. That’s less than 0.3% of the state’s total revenues, and a drop in the bucket compared with how much the state likely spends because of booze.

  • Excise taxes on alcohol haven't gone up since 1980.

Driving the news: A group of State House progressives, including Rep. Marjorie Decker (Cambridge) Sen. Jason Lewis (Winchester) and Rep. Kay Khan (Newton), are pushing an alcohol tax increase to discourage dangerous drinking and help pay for governments' lopsided spending on care.

Between the lines: A State House briefing on the report last week was the first step for the group in a push to gain enough support to put the issue on the House or Senate agenda.

What they're saying: "The Bay State prides itself on being a center of medical technology, innovation and science. Yet when it comes to alcohol, the state’s policies are far out of date, and not consistent" with federal and international recommendations for reducing harm, Jernigan wrote in the paper.

The lawmakers also want to re-examine how many licenses the state approves for the sale of alcohol.

  • The number of alcohol licenses given out increased 63% between 2011 and 2019. And that was before the pandemic when the state loosened restrictions on home delivery and take-out drinks.
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