Alcohol fee = 'cause for harm' money: A funding idea whose time has come

Image by Bright Meadow via Flickr

Booze, it seems, causes some people to do drunken things, get in trouble (i.e., do harm, at times), go off to the E.R., occasionally in an ambulance. So why not tax the booze to pay for the E.R. and ambulances? This is being proposed by San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos in one of a bunch of efforts to fill the gaping budget hole that this city, like virtually every city in the nation, is facing.

It is called a “cause for harm” fee. A fee, explains San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius, differs from a tax because it can only be spent for the specified purpose for which it was collected. We don’t like the word Tax these days.

No fair! say the bar and restaurant owners; five cents more per martini will kill the business! I doubt that. Having put in my time as a martini (among other things) drinker, I can absolutely certify that if you want a$6 cocktail you’re not going to pass it up at $6.05.

“Cause for harm” fees, in fact, seem like a pretty good idea:

  • Oil company digging fees (say, five cents a quart) for spills, etc.
  • Leaf-blower fees to mitigate noise, air and clogging-the-storm-drain pollution
  • A dead cell phone fee to ship dead cell phones to another planet if there’s one that wouldn’t really mind
  • Pigeon fees… well, just because

You can create your own list. Fees of this “cause for harm” type are collected in other states, though more often used to pay for things like treatment and education rather than transportation to the ER. In any event, they clearly make sense. And somehow the cause/effect principle seems like one that should pick up wider support.

Maybe Mr. Karzai could impose a few fees of his own, and use them to send all those troops back home.

Supervisor’s fee on alcohol a terrific idea.


  1. Fran, what I’d like to know is why is there always support from everyone to tax the so called “sins” ? (i.e. sin tax) ??? Haven’t you ever wondered why no one wants to tax “FAT” people for all the expense they cause society ? Why isn’t there a “FAT TAX” ???? Studies have shown that these porkers cost the system (you and me) hundereds of times more in medical and all the other expenses related to being obese than all the other things combined. But, oh no, don’t EVER mention that problem. You will be immediately chastized and accused of being rude and predudice. Well, too bad. Do you realize all the medical problems caused by obesity ? It costs our system billions every year. The “FAT” epidemic in the US is disgusting to say the least. We are now the laughing stock of the entire world. The next generation will be the first ever to live fewer years than their parents. Isn’t that a wonderful award to win ? These hoggers need to be taxed for every pound over their “normal” weight according to the height/weight charts and the tax amount should increase on a sliding scale. We should be “weighed in” like cows every year and pay the tax right then. No exceptions unless you have a written statement from your doctor that you have a(real)medical condition that causes the obesity.

    1. I doubt if a Fat Tax would ever get off the ground, Cato, even though the related costs are indeed huge (resist all jokes.) But I would support a few extra pennies on french fries and ice cream with the same logic. Having done my share of dieting, I can attest it’s not much easier than getting off the sauce; but admittedly all of us pay costs incurred by both behaviors, once they become excessive. Somehow I just like the cause-for-harm reasoning. Doesn’t really seem punitive to me.

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