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!

 

 

 

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!

Powdered Alcohol Update

Many of you may have been following the movement on the powdered alcohol front in recent months. As the Legislature has made moves to regulate the product, many voices – several of them yours – said it would be better to not see powdered alcohol on the shelves at all.

We believe that powdered alcohol presents a unique set of risks that we haven’t seen since alcoholic energy drinks were introduced in 2005. Unfortunately, alcoholic energy drinks are a prime example of waiting too late to act. Though many public health and policy experts expressed concerns about the dangers of the product, it still found its way to the shelves. The availability of this product, similar to powdered alcohol in youth appeal, resulted in extreme misuse and overconsumption among young drinkers. Unfortunately, it took several young people losing their lives or getting seriously injured before the government decided to act and pull the product. Had alcoholic energy drinks been banned outright, as many experts agreed they should have been, the tragic loss of lives could have been prevented.

Due to our concerns about powdered alcohol, we’ve recently spent a lot of time educating lawmakers and the public about the potential dangers of this product. The bottom line is that powdered alcohol is easy to misuse, conceal, and overconsume. The packets are so small it would be easy for a teen to carry the equivalent of a 30-pack their makeup bag or a 6-pack in their pocket. Alcoholic products that pose this level of danger to our youth require that we be more proactive than reactive; we must act now to prevent harm to our youth instead of waiting to respond once tragedies have already occurred.

We believe the effort to regulate powdered alcohol is well-intentioned and aimed at protecting the health and safety of Texas children. But right now, powdered alcohol is not in the marketplace or black market; regulation would open the door for sales and easy youth access to a product that youth could easily conceal, misuse, or overconsume. As parents, community members, and state leaders concerned about the health and safety of our youth, our efforts should focus on making alcohol products less, not more, available to them. We should not be altering the definition of alcohol to include a powdered version so a company can make a quick buck at the expense of our kids.

As it is, we know that alcohol is the most used substance by youth in Texas, with more than half of middle and high school students saying they have used alcohol at some point in their lifetime. We also know that youth use of alcohol is linked to several serious consequences, such as traffic crashes and fatalities, DUI arrests, poor academic performance, increased dropout rates, unintended pregnancies, and violent crime. Given the number of existing issues that make it challenging enough to protect the lives of our youth, why add another set of completely preventable issues to the list with powdered alcohol?

After the current legislative session ends on May 30, 2017, we will provide a session overview on powdered alcohol, as well as key next steps you can take to keep it off the shelves. In the meantime, to learn more about powdered alcohol and what you can do to protect our youth from the substance, contact Sachin Kamble at skamble@texansstandingtall.org or 512.442.7501, or visit us online at www.TexansStandingTall.org.

TST  used the above props to demonstrate that the number of Kool-Aid packets (which are the approximate size of a powdered alcohol packet) a teen could fit in her makeup bag equaled more shots than there are in a 1.75L bottle of alcohol.