Whitney Houston's death inspires question: Why not higher alcohol taxes? | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Whitney Houston's death inspires question: Why not higher alcohol taxes?

Posted By on Sun, Feb 19, 2012 at 8:03 AM

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I don't read the New York Times' newish columnist Frank Bruni much. And I don't know why this caught my attention this morning. In one respect, it belabors an obvious point. But that is the point, that something so obvious gets relatively little attention.

He uses Whitney Houston's death (and Amy Winehouse's) as a takeoff on the ill effects of alcohol abuse. He notes how little public alarm and government reaction accumulate against it in comparison with tobacco corn syrup and other agents harmful to health.

Although some states have increased the sales taxes on alcohol over the last few years, they’ve typically done so in search of badly needed revenue and in the hope that it won’t dampen consumption — not as a public health measure aimed at reducing drinking.

“It’s amazing,” Wagenaar said. “There are scientists and epidemiologists counting all the bodies from alcohol-related problems, but only a few of them are looking at tax rates.”

And while some states restrict the marketing and promotion of alcohol, the overall advertising climate remains permissive enough that between 2001 and 2009, the average number of commercials for alcohol seen yearly by a teenager who regularly watched television rose to 366 from 217, according to a study for the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins.

I’m not interested in reanimating Carry Nation, and I’m not about to abandon my white Burgundy or gin martinis. But I’m confused by the paucity of public discussion about all this. I’ve heard more calls for taxes on sugary soft drinks than for an overdue examination of taxes on booze.

Speaking of Whitney Houston: Maybe I overlooked it, but I don't think I saw a reference to her funeral in the Sunday Democrat-Gazette. It was background music in my house for four hours Saturday afternoon, a remarkable cultural event if not "news" in a classic sense. Famous singers and attendees; thundering prosperity gospel; a tabloid tiff when Bobby Brown brought in too large an entourage for his assigned spot in an overflowing Newark church, and some remarkably uninformed cable TV commentators on matters religious — for example, one thought a "homegoing" service was a reference to holding the funeral in Houston's hometown.

CELEBRITY RICH: Whitney Houstons funeral was four-hour spectacle.
  • CELEBRITY RICH: Whitney Houston's funeral was four-hour spectacle.

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