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Excise Tax at a Glance

Excise Tax at a Glance: Understanding the Basics

Excise taxes are specialized taxes that are imposed by a government on certain goods and services that are considered to be nonessential or harmful to society. These taxes are levied at the time of purchase or usage of the product or service and are usually included within the overall price paid by the consumer.

In most countries, excise taxes are intended to discourage the use or consumption of specific products, such as tobacco, alcohol, and gasoline, all of which have a negative impact on public health, environment, and society. Excise taxes are also used as a source of revenue generation for governments, with a portion of the revenue generated earmarked for specific sectors such as healthcare, education, or infrastructure development.

Excise taxes can be imposed at different levels of government, from the federal government to the state, province or local government. The amount of excise tax imposed varies by country and by product or service, and can be based on different metrics, such as the volume of the product consumed, the weight of the product, or the percentage of the price of the product.

The History of Excise Taxes

While excise taxes have been in use for centuries, they have evolved over time, with changing social, economic, and political conditions necessitating their adaptation. The first recorded excise tax was introduced in England in the 17th century, on certain high-end goods such as soap and candles. These taxes were initially intended to provide revenue for the government, but soon became an instrument of social reform, with taxes on tobacco and spirits being introduced to curb excessive drinking and smoking.

The United States adopted its first federal excise tax in 1791, on distilled spirits, as a means to reduce the country’s debt accrued during the Revolutionary War. However, the tax proved to be unpopular, leading to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, which was eventually put down by the federal government. Despite resistance, excise taxes remained a significant source of revenue for the US federal government, with subsequent administrations introducing new taxes on tobacco products, motor vehicles, and firearms, among other products.

Types of Excise Taxes

Excise taxes come in different varieties, each with its own purpose, rate of taxation, and mode of implementation. Some of the most common types of excise taxes include:

1. Alcohol taxes: These taxes are imposed on the production, sale, and importation of alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine, and spirits. The rate of taxation varies depending on the alcohol content of the beverage, with higher rates imposed on drinks with higher alcohol content. Alcohol taxes are intended to reduce excessive consumption of alcohol, which has been linked to numerous public health issues such as alcoholism, liver disease, and drunk driving.

2. Tobacco taxes: These taxes are levied on the production, sale, and importation of tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco. The rate of taxation for these products depends on the type of product, the number of products, and the weight of the product. Tobacco taxes are intended to reduce smoking and tobacco use, which have been associated with various health problems such as cancer, heart disease, and respiratory issues.

3. Fuel taxes: These taxes are imposed on the sale and importation of gasoline, diesel, and other petroleum products. The rate of taxation varies by country and by state or province, with some countries imposing both a federal and a state/provincial fuel tax. Fuel taxes are intended to raise revenue for the government, while also discouraging excessive consumption of fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change and other environmental problems.

4. Luxury taxes: These taxes are levied on high-end goods and services that are considered to be nonessential or luxury items, such as yachts, jewelry, and high-end automobiles. Luxury taxes are intended to generate revenue for the government, while also reducing the consumption of frivolous goods and services.

Recent Developments in Excise Taxation

Excise tax policies have continued to evolve over the years, reflecting changing economic and social conditions, as well as environmental concerns. Here are some recent developments in excise tax policy:

1. Carbon taxes: In response to the growing concern over climate change, many countries have adopted carbon taxes, which are levied on the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuels. These taxes are intended to encourage the use of cleaner, renewable energy sources, as well as to generate revenue for the government.

2. Sugar taxes: In response to the rising incidence of obesity and other health issues related to excessive sugar consumption, some countries have introduced taxes on sugary drinks and foods. These taxes are intended to encourage healthier eating habits, while also raising revenue for the government.

3. Plastic taxes: In response to the growing concern over plastic waste and its impact on the environment, some countries have introduced taxes on single-use plastic bags and packaging. These taxes are intended to encourage the use of biodegradable or reusable alternatives, while also generating revenue for the government.


Excise taxes have been an important tool used by governments to regulate consumption, raise revenue, and achieve social and environmental objectives. While they are often controversial and unpopular, their effectiveness has been demonstrated in reducing the use of harmful products and encouraging more sustainable practices. With ongoing concerns over public health, climate change, and environmental degradation, it is likely that excise tax policies will continue to evolve in the years to come.

An excise tax is one in which individuals pay a tax on either the manufacturing of a product, or a completed product. Those products are sold within the country that imposes the excise tax. Products are taxed when they are sold within the United States, not when they are imported. Import taxes are those imposed on items brought into the country to be sold.

An excise tax is generally passed onto the consumer, by the company that manufactured or sold the item. The company raises the price of the item in order to recover the excise tax from the consumer. Excise taxes are imposed in addition to sale tax, in most cases. In fact, one item can be taxed at several levels, including sales tax, use tax, and the value added tax. That item is also suppose to be taxed if the item is ever resold. Unlike the VAT, an excise tax is not imposed as a proportion to sales value, but instead it is a specific unit tax.

Excise taxes  are often imposed on items such as gasoline and are imposed on a per gallon basis. Currently, law makers in New York are trying to impose an excise tax on sugared beverages, according to the size of the drink. There are excise taxes on items such as cigarettes and alcohol, which are imposed on units of measure of each product. For example, an excise tax may be assessed on a per pack of cigarette basis.

However, most states do not impose an excise tax if the products used to make a cigarette are purchased separately.  Alcohol is generally taxed at a percentage of the size of the bottle, but usually hard liquor has a higher excise tax then regular spirits. Generally, consumers are not even aware of excise taxes as the tax is already included in the price of the product.

For example, when an individual fills their tank with gas, they are not aware of the amount of excise taxes placed on each gallon. They simply pay the per gallon price without being aware of the other taxes and fees associated with the price of that gallon of gas. If businesses were made to explain the taxes, and other costs, consumers would likely become confused as to the actual price of an item.

According to tax laws, any indirect tax in the United States, qualifies as an excise tax according to definition. However, there are states, like Hawaii, the treat excise tax as a state wide tax that is used instead of a general sales tax. Excise taxes can be imposed on many levels, including state and federal. For example, gasoline has a flat Federal tax which is assessed on a per gallon level. In addition, most states also impose an excise tax on each gallon off gasoline.