Can increasing the tax on alcohol have an effect on the rate of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)? Apparently, it can.
After the State of Maryland increased its liquor taxes in 2011, it almost immediately experienced a sharp reduction in the rate of new gonorrhea infections. A study has found that this was not just a coincidence; the two events are closely linked.
In 2011, the Maryland raised its liquor tax from 6% to 9%. After the tax increase, Maryland's gonorrhea rate declined by 24%, which is about 1,600 fewer cases per year.
But how do you determine that the tax increase caused the decline in gonorrhea rather than some other factor? The study used three control groups to exclude other explanations. The first control group included all states that did not change their alcohol taxes. The second group evaluated data from the states that border on Maryland, in order to avoid a bias caused by people going across state lines to buy liquor in nearby states where the taxes were lower. The third group eliminated states where the state government has a monopoly on the sale of hard liquor, since prices may rise in those states even without any change in taxes.
The researchers found no decrease in the rate of gonorrhea in the control states. They also looked at rates for chlamydia infections, another STD, but saw no effect from liquor taxes.
The authors of the study suggest that decreased alcohol consumption decreases sexual risk-taking, which includes having unprotected sex, casual sex, or sex with new partners.
Previous studies have also found a link between higher taxes on liquor and lower rates of gonorrhea. The study concluded that alcohol taxes may provide a health benefit and may be an efficient way to reduce the rate of STDs.
The study was published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine. You can read it here.