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Higher Beer Taxes Would Reduce Gonorrhea?
By DAVID PITT, Associated Press

ATLANTA April 27, 2000 - A government report says raising the tax on a six-pack of beer by 20 cents could reduce gonorrhea by up to 9 percent because cheap beer is a leading contributor to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, released Thursday, compared changes in gonorrhea rates to changes in alcohol policy in all states from 1981 to 1995. In years following beer tax increases, gonorrhea rates usually dropped among young people. The same happened when the drinking age went up - as it did in many states during the 1980s.

"Alcohol has been linked to risky sexual behavior among youth. It influences a person's judgment and they are more likely to have sex without a condom, with multiple partners or with high-risk partners," said Harrell Chesson, a health economist with the CDC.

Beer industry lobbyists, however, said recent statistics show young people are already drinking more responsibly, thanks in part to efforts by brewers.

"Excise taxes have little or nothing to do with alcohol abuse in society," said Lori Levy of The Beer Institute in Washington. "I think that our members understand the importance of educating young people about how to make responsible choices once they're old enough and they put a lot of money and effort into those programs."

Gonorrhea, one of the most common venereal diseases, was examined in the CDC study because long-term statistics are available and the disease is more evenly spread among states.

The CDC analyzed the drops in gonorrhea rates following different tax increases and came up with the estimate that 20-cent increase per six-pack would lead to a 9 percent drop in gonorrhea rates.

Chesson cited the example of a 16-cent per gallon - about 9 cents per six-pack - tax increase in California in 1991. Gonorrhea rates in the 15 to 19 age group dropped about 30 percent the following year. Drops in other states were not as dramatic.

During the study, various states raised beer taxes 36 times. Gonorrhea rates among in the 15 to 19 age group dropped in 24 of those instances, and rates among those 20 to 24 dropped 26 times.

In both age groups, men seem to be more affected than women by higher beer prices.

Most minimum legal drinking age increases were also followed by a decrease in the gonorrhea rate, especially in the 15 to 19 age group.

"This study suggests these strategies could have a significant impact in reducing sexually transmitted diseases among young people," said Dr. Kathleen Irwin, chief of health services research and evaluation for the CDC's division of sexually transmitted diseases.

About 3 million teen-agers are infected with sexually transmitted diseases each year, Chesson said. Gonorrhea usually can be treated with antibiotics, although some drug-resistant strains have been developed.

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