Analysis of Price Changes in Washington Following the 2012 Liquor Privatization

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AimsIn June, 2012 the state of Washington ended a wholesale and retail monopoly on liquor sales resulting in about five times as many stores selling liquor. Three-tier restrictions were also removed on liquor, while beer and wine availability did not increase. Substantial taxes at both the wholesale and retail levels were implemented and it was expected that prices would rise.MethodsTo evaluate price changes after privatization we developed an index of about 68 brands that were popular in Washington during early 2012. Data on final liquor prices (including all taxes) in Washington were obtained through store visits and on-line sources between November 2013 and March of 2014. Primary analyses were conducted on five or six brand indexes to allow the inclusion of most stores.ResultsWashington liquor prices rose by an average of 15.5% for the 750 ml size and by 4.7% for the 1.75 l size, while only small changes were seen in the bordering states of Oregon and Idaho. Prices were found to vary greatly by store type. Liquor Superstores had generally the lowest prices while drugstore, grocery and especially smaller Liquor Store prices were found to be substantially higher.ConclusionOur findings indicate that liquor prices in Washington increased substantially after privatization and as compared to price changes in bordering states, with a much larger increase seen for the 750 ml size and with wide variation across store types. However, persistent drinkers looking for low prices will be able to find them in certain stores.

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