At least that is the the public health take-away of a recent study analyzing the public health impacts of an increase in the alcohol tax in Maryland.
The Baltimore Sun:
Maryland recorded 7,400 cases of the bacterial infection in 2010, when alcohol, like other goods, was taxed at 6 percent. But two years later, with a 9 percent levy tacked on to booze sales, gonorrhea cases in the state dropped below 5,700, even as infection rates grew nationally.
Researchers at the University of Florida say they can only find one explanation: the alcohol tax.
“We know increasing alcohol taxes decreases alcohol consumption,” said Stephanie Staras, the lead author of the study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. “We also know that people who are using alcohol are more likely to have risky sexual behavior.”
Besides being a great opportunity to for an excellent post title, this is a good illustration of how insurance design is important but far less important to general health than general socio-enviromental factors. Maryland was looking to raise revenue and perhaps decrease drunk driving when they increased the tax. Tertiary impacts on sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates were most likely not part of the political debate.
However, if these results hold up, and logically they make sense as alcohol consumption leads to bad decision making, avoiding seventeen hundred STI cases avoids significant treatment cost and more importantly, it avoids significant pain and risk for individuals. Avoidance through changing the environmental and economic matrix is far more efficient treatment than post-infection treatment.