Sin Taxes on Alcoholic Beverages

Taxes on alcohol beverages are often called “sin taxes,” perhaps as a justification for raising them. The news is full of debates about increasing so-called sin taxes on alcohol.

But what’s sinful about alcoholic beverages? Absolutely nothing. Saint Thomas Aquinas observed long ago that no substance is sinful, “but only the misuse of it that makes it so.” Drinking beer, spirits and wine in moderation is associated with better health and greater longevity than either abstaining from it or abusing it. Perhaps abstaining from alcohol or abusing it might sometimes be considered unhealthful, but few would consider such behaviors sinful.

Raising taxes on alcohol doesn’t reduce its abuse nor does it reduce underage drinking. Underage drinkers generally get most of their supply from others and don’t pay for it. Research repeatedly demonstrates this.

Beverage alcohol taxes are regressive... they fall most heavily on those who are least able to afford them. Thus, they’re unfair and unjust.

Alcohol taxes are more properly referred to as hospitality taxes, because they tend to harm lower-income hospitality workers. It is largely these relatively powerless laborers who are victimized by loss of income and even jobs.

So perhaps alcohol taxes should be called regressive anti-worker taxes. That’s clearly more accurate than “sin taxes.”

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