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Excise Tax: Not a Four-Letter Word

The Texas Legislature is spending the next few months grappling with a massive budget and considering thousands of pieces of legislation.

Technically, their only job is to balance our state’s multi-billion-dollar budget. (Considering thousands of pieces of legislation is “extra.”) And despite a surplus this year, many battles will be waged in Austin about where and how to cut or raise spending.

From property taxes to an increase in gas taxes, there are countless ways the state can raise money – but few of them can also claim to save the lives of Texans.

Raising the state’s alcohol excise tax can do both. The excise tax is a tax on alcohol sales that historically existed to raise revenue for public purposes and to reduce alcohol consumption and its related public health harms.

Alcohol excise taxes in Texas haven’t budged in nearly 35 years; they aren’t tied to inflation or population, so they don’t rise as inflation and population grow. As a result, they have lost more than half of their value and are considered a poorly performing revenue source for Texas – if they’re even considered at all.

However, the price of alcohol is a powerful determinant in how and how much young people drink. Increasing alcohol excise taxes is one of the single biggest steps we can take to prevent underage and risky alcohol consumption, as well as its associated consequences.

Studies show that increasing alcohol excise taxes by as little as a dime a drink would save hundreds of lives, prevent thousands of young people from binge drinking, and generate more than $700 million for Texas every year. (That would equal $1.4 billion for the current biennial budget the Legislature is balancing.)

Furthermore, 25% of alcohol excise tax revenue automatically goes toward education. Just a dime a drink increase would mean an additional $177 million for public education every year. It also means we could help provide funding many Texas schools need without having to rely as heavily on local property taxes to fill education funding gaps.

What’s even more good news is that 65% of Texans support increasing the alcohol excise tax to improve public education and safety in our state. Our Legislature can play a role in reducing underage drinking and its related problems while raising millions for Texas.

We’re asking the Legislature to consider an increase in alcohol excise taxes while they are in session, and we’ll be using our Advocacy Day as a critical platform for talking to lawmakers about the benefits of raising the excise tax in Texas.

If you haven’t signed up for Advocacy Day yet, please register today so you can join us in Austin on February 19! You’ll be able to receive training and educate lawmakers on the issues we’re tackling to help us build safe, drug-free communities for generations to come.

A Ban on Powdered Alcohol Should Be Our Only Option

Every other year when the Texas Legislature is in session, the issues we care about are examined under a unique legislative lens. We begin to track bills as they are filed; we focus on legislation we will be opposing or supporting; and we share our findings with coalitions, advocates, and supporters.

One of the most important issues we’re monitoring this year is the potential sale of powdered alcohol in Texas.

Powdered alcohol is exactly what it sounds like: alcohol in a powder-like form. Its appearance has been compared to Tang or Kool-Aid, and it would be sold in small pouches intended for consumers to mix with water or another beverage.

The problem with this product is that it is much easier to store, carry, and consume than alcohol – making it more dangerous once it is in the hands of young people.

Currently, powdered alcohol is not sold anywhere in Texas or the United States. We’d like to keep it that way by banning the product in our state.

We are excited that Rep. Trent Ashby (Lufkin) has filed HB1610, which would ban powdered alcohol in Texas. We applaud his efforts to keep young Texans healthy and safe.

Banning powdered alcohol is the only way to keep it from being sold in Texas; it is the only way to keep this harmful product off the shelves – and out of the hands of young people.

We cannot afford to wait until a tragedy occurs to make the necessary policy decision to ban powdered alcohol.

We are thankful Rep. Ashby is championing legislation that bans powdered alcohol in our state. Nearly 40 states have permanently or temporarily banned the product, and several have pending legislation to ban it. Instead of putting business interests ahead of the lives of young people, let’s join those states in making our children’s health and safety our priority.

If you’re interested in educating your lawmaker about this important issue, join us in Austin for our Advocacy Day on February 19th. The day includes a morning training session – where we’ll break down our most important issues – and lawmaker visits (in groups) to educate them about prevention. It’s not too late to register!

Advocacy Day: Worth the Trip to Austin

 

Every other year, our elected officials come together for a 140-day session to pass bills that are aimed at protecting the health and safety of all Texans. During this time, thousands of people from all over the state – and from all different kinds of professions – pay a visit to the Capitol to meet with their elected officials. These meetings often involve conversations that allow our representatives to hear more about constituents’ concerns and the issues that matter to them.

As a member of Texans Standing Tall’s (TST) Youth Leadership Council (YLC), I’ve had the great opportunity to attend TST’s Advocacy Day on more than one occasion. The experience was so inspiring that afterwards, I returned to my hometown of Anthony, motivated to get my state representative to visit my high school. My classmates and I wrote letters to his office and a few weeks later, he came to speak at our school. I was and still am very grateful for that opportunity.

Now, as a YLC alum and TST intern, I’m once again excited to participate in Advocacy Day. On February 19, 2019, coalition members of all ages and from all areas of the state will come together in Austin to receive information and training on important issues related to youth alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use. Attendees will then have the chance to meet with their representatives to talk about youth substance use prevention and advocate for positive change in their local communities.

Attending TST’s Advocacy Day is one of the most important things you can do as a supporter of Texans Standing Tall and as an advocate for safe, drug-free communities in Texas. The morning training sessions prepare you to speak with your representatives about the most pressing alcohol and tobacco issues our communities face; the afternoon visits at the Capitol give you face-to-face time with lawmakers and their staff members. In between the training and the office visits, you have the chance to explore the Capitol, attend committee hearings, and learn more about the law-making process in Texas.

While anyone can visit the Capitol on their own, Advocacy Day sets you up with the proper tools and resources you need for successful visits with your elected officials. I believe the training and group dynamic of TST’s Advocacy Day are unique – I’m so glad to know I don’t have to go it alone.

So, if you haven’t registered for Advocacy Day already, do it today! Don’t miss the chance to join a dedicated group of prevention advocates at the Capitol on Tuesday, February 19, 2019. We look forward to seeing you there!

 

 

 

A Look Ahead: The 86th Legislature

On January 8, 2019, Texas lawmakers will gather in Austin for the 86th Legislature – a 140-day session designed to pass our state’s budget for the coming 2020-2021 biennnium, as well as hundreds (or possibly thousands) of new laws.

Here at Texans Standing Tall, we’ll be tracking legislation that relates to our mission: to make our communities safer, healthier, and drug-free for Texas youth. As we do every legislative session, we’ll focus on policies that most directly connect to our primary goal of preventing drug use among youth. In this role, we’ll specifically be monitoring:

  1. Powdered Alcohol, or Palcohol. This product, alcohol in powdered form, is appealing to youth because the kool-aid-like packaging makes it easy to conceal.  Nearly 40 states have already banned powdered alcohol, and the American Medical Association (AMA) announced that it supports state and federal laws banning it in the United States because the product could “cause serious harm to minors.” We’ll be working to ensure powdered alcohol does not make it onto shelves in Texas
  2. Alcohol Excise Taxes. Increasing alcohol excise taxes saves lives and raises money for the state. Excise tax funds are a significant source of revenue for governments and an area of opportunity for those facing budget deficits. In Texas, alcohol excise taxes have not been raised since 1984. Yet increasing our alcohol excise tax by as little as a dime a drink would save 402 lives, prevent more than 27,000 youth from binge drinking alcohol, and generate $708 million for Texas every year.
  3. Raising the Legal Purchase Age of Tobacco to 21. Across the country, numerous cities and two states (Hawaii and California) have enacted policies that raise the legal minimum age for sale of all tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21. According to conservative estimates, if raising the tobacco sale age to 21 was adopted throughout the U.S., it would prevent 4.2 million years of life lost to smoking in youth alive today. You can learn more from our friends over at texas21.org.
  4. Tobacco Prevention and Control Funding. As it stands, Texas spends only 3.9% of the $268 million the CDC recommends on tobacco prevention. Currently, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) funds 6 counties in the state to implement comprehensive, community-based tobacco prevention and control. As a result, these Tobacco Prevention and Control Coalitions (TPCCs) have been able to create change by mobilizing local citizens to help pass smoke-free ordinances in their communities, educating youth on the harms of smoking, and helping current smokers quit through education on and referrals to the Quitline. At TST, we’ve worked with numerous cities and counties on their efforts to make their cities smoke free; in the Rio Grande Valley alone, more than a dozen cities are now smoke free. However, statewide funding is imperative to make sure TPCCs can continue their work to prevent young people from smoking, help current smokers quit, and create smoke-free air for all Texans.
  5. Efforts to legalize marijuana. As policies regarding medical and recreational marijuana use change throughout the country – and possibly in our state – we’ll be following the issue in order to address various public health and safety concerns that may arise.

If you are interested in advocating for these issues and more, join us for our Advocacy Day in Austin on February 19th. This fun and educational day brings together youth and adult prevention advocates from across the state to raise awareness on public health issues at the Texas Capitol. We hope you’ll join us – and bring a few friends! To learn more and register for the event, click here.

Adults: Your Support is the Difference

In my four years as a member of Texans Standing Tall’s Youth Leadership Council (YLC), I have grown as a person in ways I never expected. I developed leadership skills, gained experience with public speaking, and acquired the tools necessary to become an outspoken advocate in my community. I gained all of this and more because the YLC pushed me to reach my potential and become an active and engaged citizen.

Adults in my community were very supportive of me and Texans Standing Tall’s vision to prevent young people from using alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Through my presentations at TST’s annual Statewide Summit and other events like the Texas Interdisciplinary Addiction Institute (TXIA), I was able to network with fellow El Pasoans, which opened the door to new opportunities. I was able to work with U In the Driver seat at my university, and I was asked to help give a presentation at Aliviane, one of the local coalitions in El Paso. The support from these organizations back at home helped give me the drive I needed – and the hope that we could indeed reduce drinking and other drug use among youth.

Today, in my new role as the youngest board member for Texans Standing Tall, I will continue to push myself and remain an active member of my community.

But I also have a new goal for myself: to do more to encourage adults to become involved in Texans Standing Tall and the Youth Leadership Council.

How can adults help youth like me? They can start by encouraging up-and-coming leaders.

Teenagers don’t necessarily feel like they have the potential to make an impact in their community. An adult who believes in them, encourages them to fight for what they think is right, and helps them embrace their hidden potential can make all the difference in our pursuit of leadership roles. Some are born leaders, but others are made leaders. Adults can help young people become future leaders by pushing us beyond what we think we are capable of.

Some concrete suggestions for how to lift up young leaders:

  • Take the time to learn more about any organization they care about or are involved in. This means asking questions as well as doing some of your own research, from looking at websites to engaging on social media pages.
  • Attend a meeting with them, if you’re allowed. (It doesn’t hurt to ask!)
  • If you can’t attend a meeting, give them a ride. This lets them know you support them and are prioritizing their involvement.
  • Talk to other adults about the organization(s) your child or young friend is involved in. Spreading the word about their work through conversations can inspire other adults to talk to their kids about becoming active in an organization.
  • Make an investment in the organization your young leader is involved in. This could come in the form of a monetary donation or volunteering for an event.

In my new role on the board of directors, I pledge to engage adults in El Paso and beyond; to encourage them to get involved in the work young people are doing to build safe and drug-free communities. Our generation can’t do this alone – creating a safe and drug-free Texas is going to require collaboration between young people and the adults in our lives.

As a board member at Texans Standing Tall, I know my role is more important than ever before. I have to represent this organization beyond my El Paso community and serve as an embodiment of what it stands for. I look forward to continuing the work I do for a vision and mission I love and believe in.

 

“Drinksgiving”

 

While Thanksgiving traditionally conjures images of turkey, football, and family, Thanksgiving Eve is giving way to a relatively new phenomenon known as “Drinksgiving.”

Also referred to as “Black Out Wednesday,” Thanksgiving Eve has become the busiest night of the year for bars. Largely driven by a rush of college students and young adults who flock home for the Thursday holiday, people will often arrive the day before and head to their local hometown bar to meet up with old friends. According to a bartender interviewed about one of the year’s “booziest” days, “People always talk about New Year’s Eve. It isn’t that big compared to that Wednesday [before Thanksgiving].”

This cultural phenomena has become so popular that it prompted the NHTSA to build a powerful campaign around it last year called “Make It to the Table: Don’t Drink and Drive this Thanksgiving Eve.”

Because Thanksgiving is the most traveled-for holiday of the year, with many families traveling more than 50 miles during the long weekend, we’re talking about countless Texans on the roads this season.

According to some sobering statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, alcohol-related crashes increase during the holidays, with alcohol-related fatalities spiking two to three times during that time as well. While the most dangerous holiday fluctuates, Thanksgiving is consistently one of the top three. From 2012 to 2016, over 800 people died in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday period.

At Texans Standing Tall, we know that awareness and preparedness can save lives. In our efforts to build healthier and safer communities for all, we’ll be sharing important tips on social media in the days before Thanksgiving Eve. Please “like” us on Facebook and join us this season by sharing our posts or creating your own. You can play an important role in keeping your loved ones safe and at your table this Thanksgiving.

Source: NHTSA Media

Why We Should Raise the Tobacco Sale Age in Texas


Image Source: Tobacco21.org

Tobacco is still the number 1 preventable cause of death in Texas. Annually, 12,300 new Texas youth become daily smokers. A shocking one-third of them will die prematurely as a result.

Smokers get hooked at a young age, with about 95% of smokers starting before age 21. In Texas, 10,400 kids under 18 become new daily smokers each year. And, because many high school seniors turn 18 while still in school, friends and classmates are a common source of tobacco products for these underage users. But we can begin to tackle these trends – and help keep tobacco out of schools – by raising the tobacco sales age in Texas to 21.

Raising the tobacco sale age to 21 is an effective strategy to fight tobacco use, and it’s gaining momentum nationwide. Six states have raised their tobacco sale ages to 21, along with more than 360 cities and counties across the country.

San Antonio recently became the first city in Texas to pass a Tobacco 21 law. Right now, there is an effort underway to get this done statewide during the next Texas legislative session.

With the rapid growth in e-cigarette use among young people – from 2017 to 2018, the number of high-school-age children saying they use e-cigarettes rose by more than 75 percent – there are many concerns that these types of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) are becoming an “on-ramp for children to become addicted to nicotine.” These concerns seem warranted since “more high school kids are smoking cigarettes as vaping surges, reversing a two-decade-long decline.” Alarming statistics like these make it even more important for us to do everything we can to keep young people from smoking.

That’s one of the many reasons why we’re supporting our friends at Texas Tobacco 21, a coalition of organizations working with community partners like you to save lives by preventing tobacco use. Members of the coalition include the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, and American Lung Association, Texas Academy of Family Physicians, Texas Medical Association, and Texas Pediatric Society.

For Texas Tobacco 21 updates, visit texas21.org or follow them on Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up for their newsletter for more information about Tobacco 21 meetings and events taking place across Texas.

Texas Cancer Plan: Evidence-Based Policies Can Reduce Alcohol Consumption and Cancer Risk

In our most recent post, we recognized Breast Cancer Awareness Month by exploring the link between alcohol and breast cancer.

But breast cancer is just one of several types of cancer associated with alcohol consumption – head and neck, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, and colorectal cancer are among the others. And the link between alcohol and these types of cancer is not hypothetical, anecdotal, or mythical; there is strong scientific consensus since “clear patterns have emerged between alcohol consumption and the development of some cancers.”

Increasing public awareness and education about this connection can be challenging for those of us working in the field of prevention. Which is why we are inspired by a new development.

Last month, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas released their 2018 Texas Cancer Plan. The plan includes 16 goals defined as “broad and lofty” statements that will help guide the state’s action plan for cancer research, prevention, and control.

At Texans Standing Tall, we took special note of Goal #2, which focuses on increasing healthy behaviors to reduce new cases and deaths from cancer. In particular, we were pleased to see that the plan instructs Texans to “support evidence-based policies to address excessive consumption of alcohol, including limits on days of sale, hours of sale, increasing alcohol taxes and regulating alcohol outlet density.”

What is so promising to those of us at TST and our partners across the state is that the language we use every single day in our work – terms like “evidence-based policies” and “alcohol outlet density” – are being articulated in an important report like the Texas Cancer Plan.

These are not simply industry buzz words, and the Texas Cancer Plan is absolutely on target: the strategies they list are proven ways to reduce underage and excessive alcohol use – and the associated cancer risk that comes along with it. They are also critical strategies in achieving a greater mission to create healthier, safer communities; a mission that becomes more possible as these terms become part of our public discourse and policy discussions.

According to the plan, it’s estimated that 44,713 Texans will lose their lives to cancer. Yet nearly 50 percent of new cancers and death from cancers can be prevented if we take the recommended steps to reduce certain risk factors. For example, increasing the alcohol excise tax by a dime a drink would mean at least 77 fewer Texans would die from cancer every year. In addition to saving individual lives, it also means that 77 fewer families would suffer from the devastating loss of a loved one. (See chart below for estimated annual reductions in cancer mortality.)

Statewide policies that reduce access to alcohol and other cancer-causing drugs, like tobacco, will literally save lives in the long run. As the Texas Legislature prepares for its next session in January, consider joining Texans Standing Tall or your local coalition to get involved in the conversation and play a role in preventing cancer deaths.

Source: “Alcohol Attributable Cancer Deaths” addendum from The Effects of Alcohol Excise Tax Increases on Public Health and Safety in Texas

 

 

 

 

The Link Between Alcohol and Breast Cancer

In her powerful article, “Did Drinking Give Me Breast Cancer?”, Mother Jones reporter Stephanie Mencimer explores the link between alcohol and breast cancer. What she discovered may be more relevant to your kids’ experiences with underage drinking than you might think.

Diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer at age 47 – 15 years younger than the median age in the U.S. –  the journalist embarked on her own personal journey that included conducting extensive research, which led her to a shocking truth she was unaware of until she was diagnosed: the link between alcohol and breast cancer, she learned, is “deadly solid.”

Alcohol causes at least seven types of cancer, but it kills more women from breast cancer than from any other.

I’m a pretty voracious reader of health news, and all of this came as a shock. I’d been told red wine was supposed to defend against heart disease, not give you cancer.

Mencimer drank in her younger years in a Mormon community in Utah, “where we distinguished ourselves from the future missionaries in the public schools with excessive drinking.” (It’s interesting to note that in Utah, Mormon women’s breast cancer rates are more than 24 percent lower than the national average.)

As an adult, though, she spent her life regularly going to the doctor for check-ups, eating right, and exercising regularly. She breastfed her children and avoided plastics, sugar, and pesticides. She had no family history of breast cancer. Still, she wrote, “not once has any doctor suggested I might face a higher cancer risk if I didn’t cut back on drinking.”

This begs the question: if educated adults dedicated to healthy lifestyles aren’t aware of the link between alcohol and breast cancer, how are our kids supposed to know about it?

Mencimer explores the potential effects of excessive alcohol at a young age in her article:

Ninety percent of alcohol consumption by underage Americans is binge drinking, defined as four or more drinks on one occasion, according to the CDC. I’ll never know for sure, but all the drinking I did in my adolescence may have helped pave the way for the cancer I got at 47.

The average age youth in Texas report drinking their first alcoholic beverage is 12.6, which is also the average age of a seventh grader.

We already know that the longer kids wait to take their first drink, the lower the odds are that they’ll develop alcohol abuse or dependence as adults. They’re also less likely to experience the negative consequences of underage drinking – things like alcohol-related car crashes, unplanned or unprotected sexual activity, physical and sexual assault, abuse of other drugs, or even death from alcohol poisoning.

These are things we should be talking to our kids about on a regular basis. But should we also be talking about reducing their risk of cancer later in life?

Absolutely.

For cancer prevention, alcohol consumption is one of largest avoidable risk factors. The International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates that for every drink consumed daily, the risk of breast cancer goes up 7 percent. Moreover, 12 percent of female breast cancer diagnoses are attributable to alcohol consumption.

Our children may not be interested in percentages, and they may not fully comprehend that their future risk of cancer increases with underage drinking. But they need to know that underage drinking has consequences that extend beyond the most obvious ones like drinking and driving.

Time and time again, research tells us that parents play a critical role in their child’s decision to drink underage. Recent research out of Australia also reveals that, like adults, most young people don’t know about the link between alcohol and cancer. However, those aged 14-17 are less likely to drink if they are aware that the link exists. The report highlights the need for parents to educate their children on this kind of health issue in addition to modeling responsible drinking behaviors.

This October, we want to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the opportunity it provides to talk to our children about the C-word. As parents, we can do our part to arm them with basic knowledge so that they aren’t surprised to discover, as Mencimer was, that their choices today may affect them tomorrow.

If you’re interested in learning more about alcohol and cancer in Texas, check out the “Alcohol-Attributable Cancer Deaths” addendum from our report, The Effects of Alcohol Excise Tax Increases on Public Health and Safety in Texas.

 

 

Facts About E-Cigarettes

 

In less than a decade, the rise in the use of ENDS – or electronic nicotine delivery systems — coupled with a lack of knowledge about the effects of inhaling their vapor (known as “vaping”) has led to a major public health concern.

ENDS devices include e-cigarettes, personal vaporizers, vape pens, e-cigars, e-hookah, and other vaping devices that produce an aerosolized mixture containing flavored liquids and nicotine. They are relatively new products that continue to grow in number and popularity, especially among young users.

Since they first came onto the market, we’ve learned a lot about ENDS – namely, about the health risks associated with e-cigarettes and vaping, the lack of industry regulation, and perceptions among youth. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot we don’t know—and likely won’t know until the industry is fully regulated.

But one thing is clear: there’s enough evidence to know e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems cause harm, and we must work to prevent their use among young people.

We’ve compiled some of the lesser-known facts about ENDS from a variety of sources, and we’ve included several associated links so that you can learn more about any given fact.

Overall Use and Popularity

Long-Term Use and Associated Risks

Perception and Awareness

Industry

TST has worked with dozens of communities in Texas to become smoke-free – and now make sure they include ENDS in their local policies. We will continue our efforts to collaborate with prevention groups on their local efforts to eliminate and reduce tobacco use for the health and safety of our kids and communities. If you have any questions or want more information about what you can do in your community on this issue or other tobacco-related issues, please contact Steve at SRoss@TexansStandingTall.org or 512.442.7501.