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The infamous "beer and gonorrhea" story, as it appeared in the national press.

Under the title "higher beer taxes could lower STD rates" the following story went out on the Associated Press wire service, and was distributed to newspapers all over the country. Perhaps Jeff Becker. president of the Beer Institute, characterized it best with a pithy one word judgement, as being simply "Absurd."

Associated Press--In an unusual report, government researchers say that raising the tax on a six-pack of beer by 20 cents could reduce gonorrhea by up to 9 percent.

"Alcohol has been linked to risky sexual behavior among youth," said Harrell Chesson, a health economist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A CDC study released Thursday compares changes in gonorrhea rates to changes in alcohol policy in all states from 1981 to 1995. In years following beer tax increases, gonorrhea rates usually dropped among young people. The same happened when the drinking age went up--as it did in many states during the 1980s.

"(Alcohol) influences a person's judgment, and they are more likely to have sex without a condom, with multiple partners or with high-risk partners," Chesson said.

Jeff Becker, president of The Beer Institute in Washington, said sex education and safe sex campaigns focusing on condom use may also have had an impact on declining gonorrhea rates.

"To suggest that young people would change their behavior because of a small increase in the price of beer is absolutely absurd," Becker said.

Gonorrhea, one of the most common venereal diseases, was examined in the CDC study because long-term statistics are available and the disease is more evenly spread among states.

The CDC analyzed the drops in gonorrhea rates following different tax increases and came up with the estimate that a 20-cent increase per six-pack could lead to a 9 percent drop in gonorrhea.

Chesson cited the example of a 16-cent per gallon--about 9 cents per six-pack--tax increase in California in 1991. Gonorrhea rates in the 15 to 19 age group dropped about 30 percent the following year. Drops in other states were not as dramatic.

During the study, various states raised beer taxes 36 times. Gonorrhea rates among the 15 to 19 age group dropped in 24 of those instances, and rates among those 20 to 24 dropped 26 times.

In both age groups, men seem to be more affected than women by higher beer prices.

Most minimum legal drinking age increases were also followed by a decrease in the gonorrhea rate, especially in the 15 to 19 age group.

"This study suggests these strategies could have a significant impact in reducing sexually transmitted diseases among young people," said Dr. Kathleen Irwin, chief of health services research and evaluation for the CDC's division of sexually transmitted diseases.

About 3 million teen-agers are infected with sexually transmitted diseases each year, Chesson said. Gonorrhea usually can be treated with antibiotics, although some drug-resistant strains have developed.
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Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 8, 2000
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