- The Washington Times - Friday, April 28, 2000

ATLANTA Hey, Bud, this is for you. The government has spent a lot of money to discover what every good ol' boy could have told them for nothing:
The girls all get prettier at closing time.
Somebody in Nashville once wrote a song about it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which studies these things, has written an Official Report concluding that cheap beer is even a contributor to getting the clap. (Some good ol' boys could have told them that, too.) Naturally, it's an opportunity to raise taxes. Raising the tax on a six-pack by 20 cents, the CDC says, could reduce gonorrhea by up to 9 percent.
The study, released Thursday, compared 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.
Says Harrell Cheson, a health economist with the CDC: "Alcohol has been linked to risky sexual behavior among youth. It influences a person's judgment and they are more likely to have sex without a condom, with multiple partners or with high-risk partners."
In an earlier era, cheap beer was even known to ring wedding bells.
Beer men, however, say recent statistics show young people are already drinking more responsibly, thanks in part to efforts by brewers.
"Excise taxes have little or nothing to do with alcohol abuse in society," says Lori Levy of the Beer Institute in Washington. "I think that our members understand the importance of educating young people about how to make responsible choices once they're old enough, and they put a lot of money and effort into those programs."
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 declining gonorrhea rates following different tax increases and came up with the estimate that 20-cent increase per six-pack would lead to a 9 percent drop in gonorrhea rates.
The CDC economist cites the example of a 4-cent per gallon about 2.25 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 in 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. That may be because men buy more cheap beer, particularly at closing time.
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," says 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, Mr. Cheson said. Gonorrhea usually can be treated with antibiotics, although some drug-resistant strains have developed.

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