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Sexually Transmitted Infections Can Be Reduced By Taxing Alcohol

A recent study from the University of Florida suggests that providing a financial disincentive on alcohol sales can significantly impact the STI rates.

by Nick Rose
Dec 12 2015, 3:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Thomas Hawk

The effects of alcohol on impulse control and physical attraction are well-known both empirically and anecdotally.

And there is also growing evidence suggesting that drinking alcohol makes you appear more attractive to others.

READ: Scientists Say You're at Your Most Attractive When a Little Buzzed

Needles to say, this perfect storm of heightened attraction and spontaneity can lead to unfortunate decisions being made in terms of partner selection. It can, and has, lead to increased rates of sexually transmitted infections (STI) like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis among young people.

In fact, the link between alcohol and unprotected sex is so strong that a recent study from the University of Florida suggests that providing a financial disincentive on alcohol sales can significantly impact the STI rates.

"If policymakers are looking for methods to protect young people from harmful STIs, they should consider raising alcohol taxes, which have decreased remarkably over the years due to inflation," Stephanie Staras, the study's lead researcher said in a press release.

The study looked at a recent tax increase in Maryland that resulted in 2,400 fewer cases of gonorrhea during the 18 months after the increase was passed into law, according to findings published the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The increase was only $0.03 per $1 but it seems to have been enough to curtail the risky behaviour of drinkers; the rate of gonorrhea infections decreased by 24 percent in Maryland compared with other states after the increased tax went into effect.

READ: Having a Few Drinks Makes You More Attractive to Others

As interesting as the results were, they are hardly conclusive, as the research team did not find any significant effect on chlamydia rates or any statistical differences across age, race or ethnicity, or gender.

Still, this research points to economic disincentives as being a new frontier for dealing with the ills of alcohol.

"Right now, the only population-level intervention for STIs recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is condom distribution," Staras said. "However, the effects we observed in this study are comparable to the effectiveness of condom distribution, and taxes generate revenue rather than spend it—making it a powerful option for policymakers to consider."