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Alcohol tax hike in US ‘lowers gonorrhea rates’

Tax hikes could help prevent sexually transmitted infections, scientists have claimed, after cases of gonorrhea fell 24% in Maryland since the introduction of alcohol price increases.

Academics have recommended tax hikes as a way to combat sexually transmitted infections following research in Maryland

According research by the University of Florida, since tax increases on alcohol largely decrease consumption, and less excessive drinking reduces ‘risky’ sexual behaviour, STI rates can be positively impacted by the measure.

Researchers claim that in the 18 months after Maryland increased its alcohol taxes from 6% to 9%, there were 2,400 fewer statewide cases of gonorrhea. The team used data from the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System for 102 months prior to the tax increase and 18 months after the tax increase.

“If policymakers are looking for methods to protect young people from harmful STIs, they should consider raising alcohol taxes, which have decreased remarkably over the years due to inflation,” said Stephanie Staras, an assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine department of health outcomes and policy and the study’s lead researcher.

The University of Florida claims its study is the first to quantify the effect of alcohol taxes on the rate of sexually transmitted infections.

As part of the study, an academic group compared trends in sexually transmitted diseases in Maryland with three groups of other states.

First, the researchers compared Maryland’s data with those states that have a similar alcohol sales method but did not increase alcohol taxes. Second, the group compared Maryland to states with similar trends in sexually transmitted diseases. Finally, Maryland was compared with Rhode Island to account for potential regional contributions to sexually transmitted disease trends.

The research team did not find any effect on chlamydia rates or any differences across age, race or ethnicity, or gender, adding that this lack of difference across various demographics suggests the tax may have “influenced all individuals similarly”.

The rate of gonorrhea infections decreased an additional 24% in Maryland compared with these control states after the increased tax went into effect.

“Right now, the only population-level intervention for STIs recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is condom distribution,” added Staras. “However, the effects we observed in this study are comparable to the effectiveness of condom distribution, and taxes generate revenue rather than spend it – making it a powerful option for policymakers to consider.”

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