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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A month ago, President Trump signed the Tax Cut and Jobs Act into law.
As with many major reforms, there are winners and losers. One of the lesser-known winners are the beer, spirits, and wine producers, who will get a two-year tax cut worth $4.2 billion dollars.
This reduction in the federal alcohol excise tax has been called a “public health disaster.” That’s because the “losers” are our own communities—the parents, youth, and concerned citizens, who will feel the unintended consequences of these cuts.
Those unintended consequences come in the form of increased alcohol consumption, higher rates of alcohol-related accidents and injuries, and various economic costs related to drinking. They also mean greater loss of life. Already, approximately 88,000 preventable deaths each year are linked to alcohol, and that number could go up under this new tax law.
Going in the wrong direction
Increasing excise taxes is not only good for public health; it’s good for our pocketbooks. A dime-a-drink tax increase would generate more than $700 million in Texas alone, while curbing teen drinking, impaired driving, and other consequences of alcohol consumption.
Although “increasing taxes” can be politically unpopular, it turns out that most voters approve the idea of higher taxes on luxury products like alcohol. They also want the revenue to go to public education and public safety—something we at Texans Standing Tall can fully endorse. (Already, one-quarter of excise taxes go to public education funding—which means cuts to excise taxes equal cuts to public education funding.)
Under the new law, tax cuts to the alcohol industry will be in effect for two years, but it’s possible they might be extended unless we get involved.
That’s why it’s important for communities to speak out, in whatever form you can: call your congressman, attend a Town Hall, write an email, and share your concerns with your friends, family, and social media networks.
As a part of our efforts to help shape a healthier future in which underage alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use have no place, Texans Standing Tall remains committed to supporting measures that keep us moving in the right direction. We think it’s time for change – how about you?
For nearly 70 years, numerous organizations throughout the country have observed May as Mental Health Awareness Month. The goal is to spend the month raising awareness and reminding people that mental health issues are something we should all care about. Texans Standing Tall wanted to take a minute to “go green” (the color for mental health) and talk about the relationship between mental health and the substance use prevention community.
As many people may know, substance use disorders are considered a mental illness; they change normal behaviors and can interfere with a person’s ability to go to work, go to school, and have good relationships with others. According to SAMHSA, nearly 44 million Americans over age 18 have experienced some form of mental illness, and more than 20 million have had a substance use disorder. Nearly 8 million of those individuals have had both a mental disorder and substance use disorder, also known as co-occurring disorders.
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) reports that, all other factors being equal, substance use rates among individuals with mental illness are higher than use rates among the overall population. Specifically, mental illness increases use rates by 20% for alcohol, 27% for cocaine, and 86% for cigarettes. Further, their research states that “there is a definite connection between mental illness and the use of addictive substances,” revealing that individuals with an existing mental illness consume 38% of all alcohol, 44% of all cocaine, and 40% of all cigarettes. Beyond that, individuals who have ever experienced mental illness consume about 69% of all alcohol, 84% of all cocaine, and 68% of all cigarettes.
Interestingly, the NBER points to price increases as a way to reduce use among this high-consuming group. And, in a way, this brings us full circle to our work in the prevention community. At TST, we have an ongoing focus on environmental prevention strategies. For example, we advocate for raising alcohol excise taxes since they haven’t been raised in Texas since 1984, but a dime a drink increase would be an effective way to improve public health and safety in our state. Such strategies allow us to create change that not only prevents youth substance use, but also helps prevent other physical, mental, and social health issues that can occur alongside or as a result of substance use. Conversely, by taking an interest in addressing mental health issues early on, we may also be able to prevent substance use issues that can occur downstream.
While it is often easy to operate within the prevention field alone, it’s important to remember that the more we can work with others – both inside and outside of prevention – the more we can do to make a huge difference in people’s lives. Our challenge to you is to keep building new relationships (and let us know about your successes when you do)! And in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, reach out to a mental health ally to learn more about the work they do and how you can support each other in your efforts to create safe and healthy communities for everyone.
If you’d like to learn more about TST’s work related to mental health issues, contact our Peer Policy Fellow, Sachin Kamble, at 512.442.7501 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Texans Standing Tall, along with several coalitions, individuals, and youth from across the state, went to the Texas Capitol on Feb. 28 to educate lawmakers on the importance of prevention. Approximately 70 alcohol and tobacco prevention specialists attended Texans Standing Tall’s Advocacy Day to inform their representatives on the risks associated with powdered alcohol, the public health and safety benefits of raising the alcohol excise tax, the public health benefits of raising the legal purchase age of tobacco to 21, and the critical need for tobacco prevention and control funding.
The day opened with Marjorie Clifton, with Arrow, a media consulting firm, expanding Advocacy Day participants’ knowledge on the notable outcomes from TST’s 2017 Excise Tax Survey, which was conducted by research firm Baselice & Associates. According to the survey, 65% of registered voters support a dime a drink increase, especially when the revenue generated goes to public safety and education. Increasing the alcohol excise tax by a dime a drink would generate an additional $708 million in revenue every year. By current law, 25% of alcohol excise taxes generated is automatically designated for public education; the remainder of the money could be used to fund public health and safety efforts, as well as other issues that Texans are passionate about. Raising alcohol excise taxes is also the single biggest step we can take to prevent underage alcohol use and abuse – a dime a drink would save 402 lives annually.
Advocacy Day participants also learned about Texas lawmakers’ efforts to expand the definition of alcohol to include powdered alcohol, which has a texture similar to Tang or Kool-Aid and can be added to water to make cocktails or alcoholic drinks. The expanded definition would allow the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC) to regulate powdered alcohol and pave the way for this dangerous substance to be sold on the market. Kitty Allen, a public health advocate from the Galveston area, spoke to Advocacy Day attendees about the dangers powdered alcohol poses to the public health and safety of our communities. Powdered alcohol comes in small, youth-friendly packages that can easily be hidden in purses and pockets, essentially making it so teenagers can carry a 30-pack in their purses and 6-packs in their pockets to school, parties, or other events. Allen attested to TST’s belief that putting powdered alcohol on the shelves is a bad mix for Texas.
Cam Scott and Kaitlyn Murphy then took over the microphone to discuss the issues Tobacco Prevention and Control Program funded coalitions are facing. Nearly 50% of tobacco funding is on the chopping block, which could result in the state’s number of new smokers trending back up. The Campaign for Drug-Free Kids reports that states where funding was cut resulted in disastrous outcomes in the quest to create a tobacco-free generation. For example, Florida experienced a massive increase in tobacco use when state funding was slashed – smoking among youth 16 and older increased by 21.2%. When the funds were restored, smoking among youth declined by 62%.
The duo also briefed Advocacy Day participants on the latest in tobacco prevention efforts, Tobacco21. Attendees educated lawmakers on the benefits of raising the legal purchase age of tobacco in Texas from 18 to 21. The measure has already passed in two states and multiple cities in the across the country. According to the Minimal Retail Impact of Raising Tobacco Sales Age to 21, 90% of smokers start by age 21, but the 18-20 crowd only accounts for 2.12% of tobacco sales. These are the sales that account for 9 out of every 10 new smokers. By restricting youth access to tobacco, we can significantly reduce the number of new smokers.
TST was incredibly inspired by eight of our Youth Leadership Council members, who carried out a fundraising campaign so they could join us in Austin for Advocacy Day. At the event, our youth expressed very strong feelings about the importance of preventing underage alcohol use.
“Underage drinking costs Texas $2.1 billion annually, primarily in law enforcement and health related issues, and it would be impossible to place a value on the loss of life,” YLC member Kayla Gardner said. “We took time to travel to Austin to let our lawmakers know what is going on in our communities and how important it is that they start looking at prevention as a way to protect me, my friends, and their own kids from the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.”
All of the issues discussed at Advocacy Day are critical issues that communities need to address. The normalization of alcohol results in higher numbers of underage drinkers, traffic deaths, homicides, suicides, and sexual assaults. The normalization of alcohol and pressure from a single business kept lawmakers from banning powdered alcohol—something that more than 30 states have already done—and allowed them to put industry interests ahead of the lives of our youth. On the tobacco front, budget restraints could result in lawmakers cutting funding to tobacco programs that save countless lives and decrease tobacco-related cancer risks.
It is up to us to act on behalf on future of generations. Advocacy Day was a strong show of support from those who are passionate about reducing the negative impact alcohol and tobacco have on the health and safety of our youth. Decide to ACT today and keep the momentum going! Register to attend TST’s Statewide Summit on May 1-2 so you can be prepared for the next obstacle in protecting today’s youth.