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!

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.

Summit Roundup

We are grateful to everyone who led a breakout session and contributed to lively discussions during our 2018 Statewide Summit. Thank you to those who made this our most successful Summit yet! We’ll see you next year!

Below is a rundown of the panels you may have missed. And, be sure to scroll to the bottom of the post to see some photos from the event!

Reducing Risky Alcohol Use on College Campuses: The SBI Experience

Amanda Drum | Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi
Mayra Hernandez | Texas A&M University – International
Debra Murphy | Huston-Tillotson University
Melissa Sutherland | San Antonio College
Tammy Peck (Moderator) | Texans Standing Tall

Oftentimes, schools are interested in improving the campus experience for college students through their prevention efforts, but may be short on funds to provide the desired programming. During this session, participants learned about Screening and Brief Intervention (SBI) as a proven way to reduce risky drinking and its associated consequences on college campuses. They also heard from current and past SBI campus partners, then learned ways to implement SBI as a primary prevention tool and engage stakeholders in the implementation process without having to spend tons of money.

Coalition Building

Kaleigh Becker | Texans Standing Tall

During this breakout session, participants had an opportunity to engage in a conversation around building and sustaining successful coalitions. This interactive session focused on recruiting dedicated coalition members, organizing effective meetings and engaging coalition members.

Advocacy 101: Use Your Voice to Shift the Dynamics of Power

Sachin Kamble | Texans Standing Tall

During this breakout session, participants learned about the basic skills needed to become an effective advocate. The presentation included a discussion on the importance of advocacy and the role it plays in shifting power dynamics, the different types of power and influence people have, and critical steps advocates must take to have their voices heard and create community change.

Alcohol & College Life: Perspectives from Students

Adam Concha, Amy Tang, Katy Turner | Youth Leadership Council

TST’s own Youth Leadership Council led this standing-room-only breakout session discussing the pressures college students face when experiencing the “college life.” Alcohol use rates are high among Texas college students. Being a first-year college student, participating in the Greek system, or being a college athlete puts individuals at higher risk for alcohol use. During this session, the YLC shared their perspectives on college life and engaged attendees in an informative discussion on how to enhance their college alcohol use prevention efforts.

Data Download: Effectively Communicating the Problem

Kaleigh Becker | Texans Standing Tall

During this breakout session, participants learned more about the scope of the youth substance use problem in Texas. The examined key data points related to alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs, and tobacco. In addition, participants had an opportunity to create their own infographic using an online design platform!

Excise Tax Resources & Next Steps

Nicole Holt | Texans Standing Tall

What’s going on with alcohol excise taxes? What does the 2019 legislative session hold for this important, highly effective environmental prevention strategy? Our CEO Nicole Holt discussed the challenges and opportunities for excise taxes in the upcoming year, including the anticipated budget deficit and how alcohol excise taxes can enter the conversation as a viable solution to help address the state’s fiscal needs. 

Risky Youth Behavior & Tools to Address It

AJ Cortez, Samantha De la Rosa, Andrea Marquez | Youth Leadership Council

There is an abundance of research and information that captures the risky behaviors that occur as a result of underage drinking. This issue is a priority to families across Texas. During this breakout session, TST’s Youth Leadership Council shared some of the current problems associated with underage drinking and prevention strategies to address them. They also discussed how to use TST’s Community Engagement Guide to effectively engage youth in local prevention efforts.

Alcohol Outlet Density

Michael Sparks | Sparks Initiatives

Did you know that the number of alcohol outlets in a neighborhood has a negative impact on individual and community determinants of health? Michael Sparks, alcohol policy expert, led participants through the basics of outlet density during this session: what alcohol outlet density is and the role it plays in public health and safety. Based on information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this session provided information coalitions need to 1) identify the number of outlets in communities, and 2) engage in discussions about addressing alcohol outlet density in their communities.

College Campus Prevention: Tools & Resources

Tammy Peck | Texans Standing Tall

Excessive alcohol use among students continues to be a problem for college campuses. During this session, participants learned about ways they can review and enhance their prevention efforts with limited resources (both time and money). Participants also learned more about the data from Texans Standing Tall’s most recent Higher Education Report and how they can apply this information to their work with/at colleges and universities. Additionally, TST demonstrated the online college policy tool it is building to help schools, parents, students, and community members learn more about the effectiveness of different campus alcohol policies.

The 3-Tier System & Public Health (Continuing the Conversation)

Pam Erickson | Public Action Management, PLC
Ed Swedberg | Board of Directors, Texans Standing Tall

During this presentation, attendees had the opportunity to dig deeper into the ramifications of attempts to dismantle the 3-Tier System (3TS) of Alcohol Distribution. Participants engaged with experts Pam Erickson and Ed Swedberg on what is happening at the national, state, and local levels surrounding the 3TS. Topics included how permitters and permittees can use the system to benefit alcohol distributers and increased sales with little thought to public health, how impaired driving rates and underage drinking are affected by the enforcement of the 3TS, and issues presented by online delivery services.

Addressing Marijuana Legalization in Texas

Kaleigh Becker | Texans Standing Tall
Michael Sparks | Sparks Initiatives

During this breakout session, participants had an opportunity to have an in-depth conversation about 1) marijuana legislation in Texas, 2) other states’ experience with expanded marijuana policies, and 3) the public health, social, and economic implications of expanded marijuana policies. In addition, participants determined the next steps for the Marijuana Workgroup.

Powdered Alcohol: A Bad Mix for Texas

Sachin Kamble | Texans Standing Tall

During this session, TST’s Sachin Kamble discussed where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re headed with powdered alcohol. The presentation covered what powdered alcohol is, why were concerned about it making its way to the marketplace, and previous legislative action related to powdered alcohol in Texas. It also included thoughts on powdered alcohol and the upcoming legislative session.

Social Media Advocacy: Building Your Coalition and Strategy Base

Laura Hoke | Laura Hoke Public Relations
Steve Ross | Texans Standing Tall

Social media is an essential tool for your community advocacy efforts. During this breakout, participants learned tips from public relations and communications expert Laura Hoke to increase, engage, and maintain your social media audience. The session reviewed how to use social media to communicate your message, how to reach your target audience, and how to interpret the analytics to gauge if the messaging is effective.

Bummed you missed any of these great breakout sessions? Never fear, TST training is here! Contact us at tst@texansstandingtall.org or 512.442.7501 to learn more about the trainings TST has to offer on any of the topics listed above, plus many others.

Youth Leadership Council (YLC) members with TST’s Youth Engagement Specialist, Sedrick Ntwali, getting ready to start Day 1 of Summit.Nigel Wrangham delivering his opening keynote presentation. TST CEO Nicole Holt during her excise tax breakout session.YLC members Lauren Oliver, Amy Tang, Katy Turner, Adam Concha, and Emily Hottman with Georgianne Crowell, TST’s Director of Community Outreach and Education, and Maria Caldera Morales, their YLC sponsor and Community Coalition Partnerships Grant Coordinator at The Coalition.TST’s Peer Policy Fellow, Sachin Kamble, and Youth Engagement Specialist, Sedrick Ntwali.The H2i Coalition Team from Odessa.YLC Members  AJ Cortez, Andrea Marquez, Nathaniel Fomby, and Jesus Cabrales.TST’s Nicole Holt with Pam Erickson and TST Board Member Ed Swedberg, who spoke about the Three-Tier System. Day 1 Breakout Sessions.MADD Victim Advocates Dani Simien and Kathy Hernandez during their breakout session on becoming advocates.  Amber Newby and Kathleen Armstrong Staas from the Blanco Coalition of Awareness, Prevention, and Treatment of Substance Abuse (CoAPT).Our friends from the RED Program with advocates Dani Simien and Kathy Hernandez. Day 2 Breakout Sessions.

Do you have Summit pictures to share? Be sure to post them on our Facebook page  or send them to us at tst@texansstandingtall.org!

 

 

Texans Standing Tall Takes on D.C.

Last month, staff from Texans Standing Tall had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. to help spread the message of prevention! TST’s own Sachin Kamble and Atalie Nitibhon spent a week meeting with elected officials and representatives of many substance use and mental health organizations.

Atalie and Sachin at the offices of National Council for Behavioral Health.

One highlight of the week was a visit to the offices of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Texans Standing Tall had the opportunity to speak with SAMHSA experts about prevention’s role in addressing behavioral health. Kana Enomoto, the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of SAMHSA, reaffirmed the importance of preventing alcohol and tobacco abuse.

Dr. Priscilla Clark, Deputy Director of the Center for Mental Health Services, and Kana Enomoto, Acting Deputy Assistance Secretary, from SAMHSA field questions regarding the current behavioral health system in the United States.

During the “Texas Tuesday Coffee” session, Sachin was able to meet Sen. Ted Cruz. Sachin shared his personal journey with his struggles with excessive alcohol use. Sachin discussed what Texans Standing Tall does in the state and the importance of prevention. The senator was very receptive and acknowledged the wide-ranging impact of substance abuse on Texas citizens.

Senator Cruz chats it up with TST’s own Sachin.

Atalie and Sachin also visited Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s office, where they met with his Health Legislative Aide Hannah Vogel to discuss substance use disorders and prevention as public health issues.

Health Legislative Aide Hannah Vogel (pictured far left) speaks to a group of representatives from various behavioral health organizations in Texas.

Overall, the trip was a valuable experience. If TST wants to change attitudes and behaviors toward youth substance use, advocacy at local, statewide, and national levels is essential.

Update: Powdered Alcohol

Thanks to dedicated efforts from advocates across Texas, we came together and accomplished something important: we let policymakers know that powdered alcohol has no place in our state.

There’s still work left to do, and in the coming months, we’ll be calling on you to keep educating your family, friends, and elected officials about the importance of keeping this dangerous product off the shelves. But first, let’s look at what we were able to do when we worked together this session:

  • On February 28, TST brought together advocates from across the state for Advocacy Day at the Texas Capitol. After a morning of training, attendees visited their representatives’ offices to educate them on the dangers of powdered alcohol and ask them to ban the product.
  • In March, TST CEO Nicole Holt, along with coalition members from across the state, provided testimony on powdered alcohol before House and Senate committees. During the hearings, YLC member Andrea Marquez demonstrated how easy it would be for youth to conceal nearly 50 shots of alcohol in a makeup bag. See the video below for the same demonstration shared during TST’s Statewide Summit.
  • The Texas Tribune covered powdered alcohol and the committee hearings in a featured piece on their website.
  • TribTalk published op-eds about reasons for banning powdered alcohol from TST’s Sachin Kamble and YLC member Andrea Marquez.
  • Coalition members and other concerned citizens called and emailed their representatives to say that an outright ban of powdered alcohol is the safest path forward for our youth.
  • Powerful advocates and community leaders in Lufkin and College Station had editorials on banning powdered alcohol published in local papers.
  • Efforts to classify and regulate powdered alcohol as an alcoholic beverage died in the House and Senate.

And then this happened…

Towards the end of May, we saw that the label for Lt. Blender’s “Cheat-A-Rita” has been approved and it’s getting closer to the marketplace. Though we’ve made great strides, there are still businesses out there looking to make money by selling a dangerous product that poses a threat to the health and safety of our youth, even though there’s no demand for it.

Clearly, we have more work to do.

We will continue to monitor what’s happening with powdered alcohol in Texas and throughout the United States. Be sure to stay tuned and let us know how you want to be involved. Click the “Get Involved!” button below and let us know if you would like to:

  • Receive news and updates on powdered alcohol.
  • Contact your representatives about banning powdered alcohol.
  • Provide testimony on powdered alcohol during any interim hearings or the legislative session in 2019.
  • Write an op-ed or letter to the editor for the paper in your community.
  • Participate in a powdered alcohol workgroup.

Get Involved!

Thanks for your continued support and advocacy efforts!

Tobacco 21: What It Is and What’s Happening in Texas

by: Christi Koenig Brisky, Esq.

The Tobacco21 movement has made its way to Texas after a whirlwind policy shift across the United States. In both the House and the Senate, lawmakers have filed bills that would prohibit the sale of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and other tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. If passed, the bills would 1) criminalize the possession of tobacco products to anyone under 21, and 2) charge anyone found guilty of selling to underage youth with a Class C Misdemeanor, which could result in a $500 fine. These bills have crossed partisan lines, with Republicans and Democrats co-authoring Tobacco21 bills in the Texas legislature.

Tobacco21 is a public health movement most accurately summarized by its social media hashtag: #raisetheage. Those in favor of raising the legal purchase age of tobacco 21 believe it would reduce the most commonly seen form of underage tobacco purchasing: the social purchase of tobacco for underage users by someone 18 or older. Approximately 86% of students report that they obtain their cigarettes from social sources, with research showing that 15-17 year olds obtain cigarettes through social sources 86% of the time and e-cigarettes through social sources 89% of the time.  The Institute of Medicine estimated that if the minimum legal age were increased to 21, it would reduce smoking initiation among 15-17 year olds by approximately 25%. Anecdotally, Needham, Massachusetts, the first city in the United States to increase the tobacco sales age to 21, saw tobacco use rates among high school students decrease by almost 50%, with frequent tobacco use decreasing by 62%.

The vast majority of states in the country have set the legal smoking age at 18. Four states (Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey, and Utah) have adopted a minimum legal smoking age of 19. Even more states have considered—and failed to pass—statutes increasing the legal smoking age, despite significant popular support across party lines.

Despite some pushback from both the tobacco industry and political operatives, this movement has made incredible legislative strides since 2014. Over the past two years, two states—California and Hawaii— and over two hundred cities and counties across the country have passed ordinances to raise the legal minimum age for sale of all tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21. This is not just a state issue; U.S. Senator Brian Schatz and nine co-sponsors introduced legislation to raise the age to 21 nationwide for purchase of any tobacco product, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and as of 2016, vaping products. Although it ultimately died in Committee, this attempt was an important milestone for the Tobacco21 movement.

Tobacco21 does not just affect 90% of smokers who started smoking by age 20; it also affects the overall public health of our country as a whole. The Institute of Medicine reported that by raising the age, it would reduce premature deaths by almost 223,000 and lung cancer deaths by 50,000. The conservative estimate is that Tobacco21 would also prevent 4.2 million years of life lost to smoking in youth alive today.

Tobacco doesn’t just cost us lives. Both individually and nationwide, smoking has a pretty hefty price tag. Nationwide, smoking costs each taxpaying household about $951 per year.  In Texas alone, it causes financial bleeding to the tune of about $17.1 billion in total annual health care expenditures caused by tobacco-related diseases. Secondhand smoke exposure is associated with an estimated $6.03 billion in annual health care expenditures, nationwide. That’s right—smoking costs you money even if you don’t actually smoke yourself. What’s more, for every one Texan who quits smoking, there is a five-year savings of $7,027 in medical costs and lost productivity.

These are issues that directly affect Texans, and we will continue to follow the Tobacco 21 movement in our state and across the country. In the meantime, we encourage you to register for our Summit on May 1 – 2, 2017 to learn more about this and other tobacco issues in Texas. Visit www.TexansStandingTall.org to register.