IA: Increased alcohol sales come with costs for Iowans
Increased sales and money in the general fund does little for Iowans unless we reduce the societal costs of drinking in this state.
By Stacie Schroeder, Iowa View contributor
December 18, 2020
We know that spirits consumption, both for adults and youth, is on the rise in Iowa. The most recent Iowa Youth Survey showed that alcohol use among eighth-graders increased a whopping 35% from 2016 to 2018. Alcohol-involved deaths have doubled in the past decade and Iowans are dying from alcohol harms such as alcohol-impaired driving, suicides, alcohol-related cancers and liver cirrhosis.
We often hear of the concerns regarding the pandemic and its effects on small businesses. We agree that small businesses are vitally important to each and every community in Iowa.
The current reality is spirits manufacturers continue to see profit increases, including in the midst of the pandemic. Liquor sales in Iowa are up 8.2% from last year, based on the new Alcoholic Beverages Division annual report. These data suggest spirits producers are not hurting; but our youth and communities in Iowa certainly are. In fact, according to America’s Health Rankings, Iowa ranks in the top five states for excessive drinking, with 22.5% reporting over consumption. (Chart: Gallons of beer, wine and spirits in Iowa in 2020)
The Alcoholic Beverages Division report notes $133 million was added to the state’s general fund, and while most may see this as a good thing, we know alcohol use comes at a cost for Iowans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive drinking in Iowa costs $1.9 billion each year, which includes lost work productivity, health care expenses, criminal justice, motor vehicle crash costs, and property damage. This $1.9 billion in costs to Iowans each year is around $1.59 per drink and $635 per person, even for the 40% of Iowans who have not consumed alcohol in the past 30 days.
We can work to prevent youth drinking and this tragic loss of life. Research has made it clear that increases in alcohol accessibility are directly related to increases in sales, consumption, and harms. A couple of policies known to prevent youth use and excessive alcohol consumption include monitoring youth access to alcohol through routine alcohol compliance checks and instituting pricing controls that increase the price of the alcohol. (Chart: Most popular liquors in Iowa, 2016-20)
There is discussion in Iowa to set a price floor on a subset of spirit-based products. This is an opportunity to address substance use harms. Liquor is a product that is increasingly the drink of choice in Iowa behind beer. In Iowa, we recognize the fact that spirits have unique harms for individuals and communities by having the state serve as the wholesaler of the product.
We know the price floor is not a silver bullet, but it is a start. As prevention specialists working at the local level, this pricing policy can help us do our job more effectively by directly reducing underage drinking and heavy drinking among adults, thereby preventing alcohol-related deaths in Iowa. Please understand, price matters, particularly for young people and heavy drinkers.
The Alliance of Coalitions for Change, a statewide network, is in full support of the minimum price on the small percentage of specific products identified to reduce both consumption levels of high-risk populations and the health and societal harms. We are also in support of a portion of the increased profits from hard liquor sales to be directed to county prevention coalitions and evidence-based strategies such as an alcohol compliance check system in Iowa like tobacco has.
Now is the time to implement effective strategies to reduce societal costs and save lives. Increased sales and money in the general fund does little for Iowans unless we reduce the societal costs of drinking in this state.