THURSDAY, Sept. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Boosting taxes on alcohol leads to lower rates of alcohol-related disease, injury, death and crime, researchers say.

University of Florida investigators analyzed 50 published papers that estimated the health and social effects of alcohol taxes or prices. The study authors concluded that higher alcohol taxes have a greater impact than drinking prevention programs.

The results of the meta-analysis suggest that doubling the average state tax on alcohol would result, on average, in a 35 percent reduction in alcohol-related deaths, an 11 percent reduction in traffic crash deaths, a 6 percent reduction in sexually transmitted diseases, a 2 percent reduction in violence and a 1.4 percent reduction in crime.

The study findings were released online Sept. 23 in advance of publication in the November print issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The findings "clearly show increasing the price of alcohol will result in significant reductions in many of the undesirable outcomes associated with drinking," lead author Alexander C. Wagenaar, a professor of health outcomes and policy at the University of Florida College of Medicine, said in a news release from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"Simply adjusting decades-old tax rates to account for inflation could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars in law enforcement and health care costs," Wagenaar added.

In a previous study, the same team of researchers found that a 10 percent increase in alcohol price leads to a 5 percent reduction in alcohol consumption.

"Taken together, these two studies establish beyond any reasonable doubt that, as the price of alcohol goes up, alcohol consumption and the rates of adverse outcomes related to consumption go down," Wagenaar said.

"The strength of these findings suggests that tax increases may be the most effective way we have to prevent excessive drinking -- and also have drinkers pay more of their fair share for the damages caused and costs incurred," he concluded.

The study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropy devoted to public health.

In a news release issued Thursday afternoon, Distilled Spirits Council Vice President Lisa Hawkins said: "Numerous studies, including research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, show that alcohol abusers are the least sensitive to tax increases. It is the moderate responsible consumer who cuts back the most when prices rise.

"According to scientific studies, moderate alcohol consumption is associated with the lowest all-cause mortality compared to non-drinkers. It makes no sense to penalize moderate drinkers to pay for the abuse of a few, particularly when raising taxes will not reduce problems associated with abuse. For example, according to government statistics, there is no relationship between alcohol excise tax rates and alcohol-related traffic fatalities," she said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about alcohol and your health.