Cheaper beer? Wish we could drink to that

Who, among beer drinkers, would oppose a proposal that could result in cheaper beer?

No one.

After all, that would mean you would have more money left in your pocket, thus, you could buy more of this less expensive beer and drink yet more beer. Imagine how wonderful that would be. And you could even recycle more beer cans and bottles. That’s what they can win-win. Maybe even win-win-win.

Of course, not everyone drinks alcohol, so others might not see such a proposal as a positive. Yet there is a measure being hoisted about that would reduce the taxes we here in Hawaii pay for beer and it is something we should be aware of.

Rep. Kaniela Ing said he plans to introduce a bill during the next legislative session that would cut taxes Hawaii residents pay for beer by more than half, from 93 cents a gallon to 42 cents a gallon.

“While it may appear that beer is taxed at a lower rate per gallon when compared to wine or spirits, if you break down the amount of alcohol per average gallon of beer versus wine or spirits, beer drinkers are taxed at a much higher rate,” Ing said. “The goal here is to level out the taxes so that each type of alcoholic beverage is taxed equitably.”

Ing says that his proposed tax cut is not to encourage drinking, as he rarely drinks alcohol himself. Rather, Ing says, his proposal is a matter of class fairness.

“Working people tend to drink beer more often than other types of alcoholic beverages. But today they are taxed more per ounce of alcohol than someone drinking wine. When you look at it that way, the current system is incredibly unjust.”

Compared to other states, Hawaii’s alcohol taxes rank second for beer, 11th for wine, and 23rd for spirits.

Ing believes this proposal makes sense from an economic and business standpoint as well.

“Hawaii’s beer industry is growing and has resulted in hundreds of new jobs, diversified tourism, and a stronger economy,” he said. “If you look at other states, this local industry has a lot of room to grow. We should encourage the growth of local business to allow them to compete in the national marketplace.”

That certainly sounds reasonable, even if it it does seem a bit of an exaggeration to say the current system on taxing alcoholic beverages in Hawaii is “incredibly unjust.”

But no one, as some will quickly point out, is forcing anyone to buy and drink beer. It’s your choice. If you won’t want to pay the taxes on beer, then don’t drink beer.

And it’s not like beer drinkers are rallying around the country calling for lower taxes so they’ll save some money. Don’t know if we’ve heard anyone in the general public criticize Hawaii’s beer tax. If people want to drink beer, that’s fine, and we’re guessing that 99 percent of them aren’t concerned with the taxes on their favorite beverage. Beer is really pretty cheap, anyway. You can get a 12-pack almost anywhere for $9 to $15 or so, depending on brand. If you’re one of those who likes PBR or Natural Light, it can sometimes be found for even cheaper.

While we support a stronger economy, we must question if a way to do that is cut the tax rate on beer with the idea that more beer will be sold and the beer industry will grow. An economy fueled by yet more people drinking beer doesn’t sound sustainable. Or, perhaps it does.

In this country, after all, we like to drink.

One survey, in 2014, found that an estimated 217.7 million people reported that they had consumed alcohol at some time during their lifetime and 176.5 million said they had consumed some alcohol in the past 12 months.

One 2016 Gallup survey found that beer remains the alcoholic beverage of choice among Americans who drink alcohol. Forty-three percent of Americans who drink alcohol said they prefer beer, while 32 percent opt for wine and 20 percent, liquor.

“Drinking remains a popular pastime for most Americans,” the survey said. “For the nearly two in three Americans who imbibe, beer is consistently the preferred beverage of choice. However, more women continue to favor wine over beer and liquor. Gender differences in drinking behavior do not stop at favored alcoholic beverage, however. Men are more likely than women to say they occasionally drink more than they should.”

Ah. Who is to say who is drinking more than they should?

We’re not trying to be the wet blanket at a party, but we must note that drinking is a problem in this country.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc., alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States: 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems.

More than half of all adults have a family history of alcoholism or problem drinking, and more than 7 million children live in a household where at least one parent is dependent on or has abused alcohol.

Some might argue that beer is really a light alcohol and if you just drink beer, there’s no problem.

But the NCADD disagrees. It states:

“Alcoholism has little to do with what kind of alcohol one drinks, how long one has been drinking, or even exactly how much alcohol one consumes. But it has a great deal to do with a person’s uncontrollable need for alcohol. Most alcoholics can’t just ‘use a little willpower’ to stop drinking. The alcoholic is frequently in the grip of a powerful craving for alcohol, a need that can feel as strong as the need for food or water.”

We’re not asking anyone to stop drinking beer, or suggesting they should. Little is better than an ice-cold beer when you’re just finished mowing the lawn.

But we are saying reducing the tax rate on beer isn’t necessary to bolster the economy. As the surveys show, a lot of people love beer and will buy it regardless of taxes.

And we are saying that millions of people struggle with drinking too much alcohol and we don’t need to give them incentive that could help them lose that battle.

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