Cost of Alcohol and Its Consumption

by David J. Hanson, Ph. D.

Many individuals and groups call for dramatic tax increases on alcohol beverages in an effort to reduce underage drinking. 1 They believe that making alcohol more expensive will discourage consumption. That seems like a reasonable assumption.

However, the scientific evidence simply doesn't support the proposal to raise alcohol beverage prices to reduce illegal underage drinking. Logic also fails to support such a policy. The proportion of underage people who drink has dropped dramatically over the past two decades, during which time the inflation-adjusted cost of alcohol beverages also fell. Underage drinkers are largely immune to the price of alcohol beverages because they rarely buy it themselves, instead taking it from their own homes or obtaining it free elsewhere, according to federal research.

However, there is good news. The social norms marketing technique has repeatedly proven effective in reducing the use and abuse of alcohol among young people. It's based on the fact that the vast majority of young people greatly exaggerate in their minds the quantity and frequency of drinking among their peers. Therefore, they tend to drink - or drink more
-than they would otherwise, in an effort to "fit in."

When credible surveys demonstrate the actual, much lower drinking rates, and the results are widely publicized or "marketed" to this group, the imagined social pressure drops and so does youthful drinking. Study after study demonstrates this. 2

It's time for the federal government to implement the effective social norms marketing technique to reduce underage drinking.

 

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