Voters in the state of Washington have approved Initiative 1183, which ends the state monopoly on spirits sales as of June 1, 2012 and removes a number of regulations related to distribution and pricing. Spirits producers will be allowed to sell directly to retailers, bypassing the wholesale tier. New state spirits taxes, designed to make up the significant lost revenues from the spirits monopoly, will be the highest in the US states. Because these taxes will now go on top of profits to distributors and retailers, we expect spirits prices to rise to well above current levels. Importantly, the initiative requires retail taxes to b listed separately from the base price so that consumers can clearly see the tax amount. Commercial proponents likely intended this to spark later efforts to reduce spirits taxes, making future revenues uncertain. Despite a minimum size requirement that will limit licensees to large alcohol super-stores, supermarkets and other large store types, outlet density for spirits is expected to increase substantially along with later hours of sale and greater shopping convenience. This availability increase may lead to greater spirits sales even though prices will increase, as this occurred after two retail privatizations in Canadian provinces that also resulted in higher retail prices in private stores. The proposed study was designed to evaluate impacts over time of these tax and availability increases and potential future changes such as a tax reduction. We propose to track implementation of regulations, revenues and prices and use state-representative cross- sectional and longitudinal surveys of Washington drinkers and residents to evaluate changes in drinking, purchasing, problems, attitudes and experiences following privatization and across later changes. The longitudinal survey will follow spirits drinkers to assess individual drinkers'changes in detailed purchasing and consumption behaviors. Cross-sectional survey waves will be conducted every six months to allow retrospective pre-and multiple-post analyses capturing both initial and any tax and market structural shifts occurring within 3 years. Retrospective questions will assess drinking and purchasing behavior before the privatization, facilitating analysis of change. Representative surveys from the CDC with cross-sectional waves both before and after privatization will also be utilized to evaluate changes in youth and adult drinking patterns. Brand-level price and sales series from the control system and from supermarkets after privatization will be obtained using archival data sources. Other store types will be monitored through the internet and store visits. Analyses will determine the effects of the privatization and later changes on prices, sales, state revenues, drinking and purchasing patterns, experiences of alcohol-related harms (including perceived harms from other people's drinking) and opinions regarding alcohol policies, spirits availability and prices. Results will inform debates regarding government control of alcohol sales, relevant to 18 remaining control states and on the three-tier system and alcohol taxation relevant to all US states.
Proposed analyses will lead to improved understanding of the effects of privatizing government controlled alcohol sales systems, alcohol taxes and alcohol availability in terms of their effects on prices, revenues, drinking patterns, alcohol-related harm, youth drinking and problems and policy opinions. Findings may be influential in furthering public health by estimating costs related to liberalizations of alcohol policies.
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