The Association between Tax Structures and the Price Variability of Alcoholic Beverages in the United States

Background: Recent tobacco taxation research suggests that excise tax structure plays an important role in the effectiveness of increasing taxes in reducing consumption. However, evidence on excise tax structures of alcoholic beverages is scarce.

Methods: We linked price variability measures for beer, wine, and liquor derived using Economist Intelligence Unit city data from 2003 to 2016 with state-level excise tax structures from the Alcohol Policy Information System. OLS regressions were performed to assess the associations between excise tax structures and price variability, for beer, wine, and liquor (spirits), respectively.

Results: Compared with a specific excise beer tax structure based on volumes, a mixed structure with both specific and ad valorem components was associated with 38% (p≤0.01) greater beer price variability. In addition, a specific-only excise tax structure for liquor was associated with 60-77% (p≤0.01) greater liquor price variability. However, these associations do not imply a causal link between tax structures and price variability.

Conclusions: A mixed excise tax structure is associated with greater variability in beer and liquor prices, an indicator for tax avoidance opportunities. Future research is needed to identify the causal impact of tax structures on price variability.