Raising Cigarette Taxes Cuts Alcohol Consumption
Researchers analyzed data from interviews with more than 21,000 alcohol users who participated in the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions from 2001 to 2005. This survey, led by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA), is carried out every year, and is used to examine rates of alcohol abuse in the U.S. During the four-year study period, cigarette taxes had been raised in 31 states, where about 50 percent of the study subjects lived. The cigarette tax hikes varied, going up from seven cents to more than $1, with an average tax hike of 61 cents.
Study authors define smokers as people who smoked one or more cigarettes at least once per day, and define hazardous drinkers as men who drank more than 14 drinks in one session and women who drank more than seven drinks in a session. The majority of these hazardous drinkers were young men.
• Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disability in the U.S.
• Heavy drinking ranks as the third-leading cause of preventable death.
• According to recent research, smoking tobacco can cut 10 years off a person's life expectancy.
• Tobacco smokers are 10 times more likely to abuse alcohol than non-smokers.
During this study, researchers found that the benefits of cigarette tax hikes affected more than just smoking rates; they affected alcohol abuse rates as well. Among those living in areas that experienced a cigarette tax hike, hazardous drinkers were found to drink about half a drink less per day than their counterparts who lived in areas that didn't have a cigarette tax hike. Among young male smokers, cigarette tax hikes were associated with an 11-percent drop in the amount of alcohol consumed in any given drinking session. Interestingly, raised cigarette taxes had no effect on the drinking habits of female smokers or non-smokers.
The full study results will be published in the January 2014 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
The Drinking-Smoking Link
Another recent study investigating the link between alcohol and nicotine in rats has come up with one interesting explanation. Even though nicotine and alcohol raise levels of dopamine—one of the body's “feel-good” chemicals—rats given doses of nicotine before alcohol consistently showed lower levels of dopamine. The reason, the study author says, is likely that nicotine dulls the release of dopamine that usually occurs with alcohol, leading the rats to drink more in order to achieve that familiar “buzz.” If this is the case with people, then it may at least partly explain the reason smokers are more prone to drink alcohol excessively.
The link between alcohol and smoking has profound health consequences. The effects of both drinking and smoking are profoundly worse on the body than doing either alone. Smoking accounts for 80 percent of all oral cancers, for example, but the risk is made much greater if the smoker drinks alcohol regularly as well. In addition, the risk of liver cancer dramatically rises for people who consume tobacco and alcohol. Both substances are carcinogenic, and both can lead to liver cirrhosis, a chronic condition that impedes the liver's ability to function and that can develop into liver cancer. The heightened risk of cardiovascular disease is especially worrying. Nicotine causes the formation of plaque in the blood vessels, and also raises blood pressure and levels of carbon monoxide in the blood. Alcohol also increases blood pressure, and has been shown to increase plaque buildup in blood vessels. The result for someone who drinks and smokes is a one-two punch to the cardiovascular system, often leading to stroke and heart attack.
The study's results may have come at a perfect time. After years of a steady rate of tobacco smoking in the U.S. (about 20 percent of the population from 2004 to 2012), health officials are hoping that the link between cigarettes and alcohol use will prompt communities to once again reserve more funding for tackling tobacco rates, knowing that this move would tackle alcohol abuse rates as well.