Tax in rem

1871 U.S. Revenue stamp for 1/6 Barrel of beer
Brewers would receive the stamps in sheets, cut them into individual stamps, cancel them, and paste them over the bung of the beer barrel so when the barrel was tapped it would destroy the stamp.[1]

An excise or excise tax (sometimes called a duty of excise special tax) is an inland tax on the sale, or production for sale, of specific goods or a tax on a good produced for sale, or sold, within a country or licenses for specific activities. Excises are distinguished from customs duties, which are taxes on importation. Excises are inland taxes, whereas customs duties are border taxes.

An excise is considered an indirect tax, meaning that the producer or seller who pays the tax to the government is expected to try to recover or shift the tax by raising the price paid by the buyer. Excises are typically imposed in addition to another indirect tax such as a sales tax or value added tax (VAT). In common terminology (but not necessarily in law), an excise is distinguished from a sales tax or VAT in three ways: (i) an excise typically applies to a narrower range of products; (ii) an excise is typically heavier, accounting for a higher fraction of the retail price of the targeted products; and (iii) an excise is typically a per unit tax, costing a specific amount for a volume or unit of the item purchased, whereas a sales tax or VAT is an ad valorem tax and proportional to the price of the good.

Typical examples of excise duties are taxes on gasoline and other fuels, and taxes on tobacco and alcohol (sometimes referred to as sin tax).


The etymology of the word excise is derived from the Dutch accijns, which is presumed to come from the Latin accensare, meaning simply "to tax".

Regulatory and legal definitions of 'excise' vary by country. For example:

  • In India, an excise is described as an indirect tax levied and collected on the goods manufactured in India.
  • The Australian Taxation Office describes an excise as "a tax levied on certain types of goods produced or manufactured in Australia. These... include alcohol, tobacco and petroleum and alternative fuels".[3]

In Australia, the meaning of "excise" is not merely academic, but has been the subject of numerous court cases. The High Court of Australia has repeatedly held that a tax can be an "excise" regardless of whether the taxed goods are of domestic or foreign origin; most recently, in Ha v New South Wales (1997), the majority of the Court endorsed the view that an excise is "an inland tax on a step in production, manufacture, sale or distribution of goods", and took a wide view of the kind of "step" which, if subject to a tax, would make the tax an excise.


In defense of excises on strong drink, Adam Smith wrote: "It has for some time past been the policy of Great Britain to discourage the consumption of spirituous liquors, on account of their supposed tendency to ruin the health and to corrupt the morals of the common people."[4] Samuel Johnson was less flattering in his 1755 dictionary: "EXCI'SE. n.s. ... A hateful tax levied upon commodities, and adjudged not by the common judges of property, but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid."[5]

Monies raised through excise may be earmarked for redress of specific social costs commonly associated with the product or service being taxed. Tobacco tax revenues, for example, might be spent on government anti-smoking campaigns.

Excise duties or taxes often serve political as well as financial ends. Public safety and health, public morals, environmental protection, and national defense are all rationales for the imposition of an excise.

  • Public safety and health
  • Environmental protection
    • deter individuals or organizations from harming the general environment, including curbing activities which contribute to pollution, or which harm the natural environment.
  • Defense
    • including taxation directly levied on other countries' militaries and/or governments, such as the UK's taxation on "visiting forces"
  • Punitive
    • Many US states impose taxes on illegal drugs,[6] while the UK government imposes excise on money laundering and on "visiting forces" (which can be construed to mean occupying military forces). These taxes are not considered revenue sources, but rather exist to allow governments greater leverage for punishments and reparations/war reparations – based around the concept of tax evasion – which can be imposed in the event that the perpetrator is caught and tried.

Targets of taxation

Tobacco, alcohol and gasoline

These are the three main targets of excise taxation in most countries around the world. They are everyday items of mass usage (even, arguably, "necessity") which bring significant revenue for governments. The first two are considered to be legal drugs, which are a cause of many illnesses (e.g. lung cancer, cirrhosis of the liver), which are used by large swathes of the population, with tobacco being widely recognized as addictive. Gasoline (or petrol), as well as diesel and other fuels, meanwhile, despite being indispensable to modern life, have excise tax imposed on them mainly because they pollute the environment and to raise funds to support the transportation infrastructure.


Some U.S. states tax transactions involving illegal drugs.[6]


Gambling licences are subject to excise in many countries today. In 18th-century England, and for a brief time in British North America, gambling itself was for a time also subject to taxation, in the form of stamp duty, whereby a revenue stamp had to be placed on the ace of spades in every pack of cards to demonstrate that the duty had been paid (hence the elaborate designs that evolved on this card in many packs as a result). Since stamp duty was originally only meant to be applied to documents (and cards were categorized as such), the fact that dice were also subject to stamp duty (and were in fact the only non-paper item listed under the 1765 Stamp Act) suggests that its implementation to cards and dice can be viewed as a type of excise duty on gambling.[7]


Prostitution has been proposed to bear excise tax in separate bills in the Canadian Parliament (2005), and in the Nevada Legislature (2009) - proposed wordings:

  • "5.5 Implementation of an excise tax on prostitution, the brothel is taxed and passed it on." (Canada)[8]
  • "An excise tax is hereby imposed on each patron who uses the prostitution services of a prostitute in the amount of $5 for each calendar day or portion thereof that the patron uses the prostitution services of that prostitute." (Nevada)[9]

The reasons given by Canadian MPs entering the bill covered many of the above-mentioned areas, including extra funding for police protection and better healthcare for the prostitutes - however, so did many of the counterarguments.[10]

Other types

Salt, paper and coffee

Excise (often under different names, especially before the 15th century, usually consisting of several separate laws, each referring to the individual item being taxed) has been known to be applied to substances which would in today's world seem rather unusual, such as salt, paper, and coffee. In fact, salt was taxed as early as the second century,[11] and as late as the twentieth.[12]

Many different reasons have been given for the taxation of such substances, but have usually - if not explicitly - revolved around the scarcity and high value of the substance, with governments clearly feeling entitled to a share of the profits traders make on these expensive items. Such would the justification of salt tax, paper excise, and even advertisement duty have been.[13]

Window tax and Bedroom tax

The window tax was introduced after controversy arose around the introduction of income tax, which was considered to be a breach of privacy. The rationale behind this was that the grandeur of a person's house, and hence the number of windows, was a visible sign of their wealth – which could, furthermore, not be hidden like income can. One way people got around this problem was to brick up their windows. In the case of poor people this was a big social problem, as they would often force themselves to live in the dark in order to avoid paying this tax.[14][15]

The UK's Welfare Reform Act 2012 contains a clause referred to as an "under-occupancy penalty". The penalty is aimed at people on welfare benefits who live in houses containing "more bedrooms than they need". While not officially referred to as a tax, the controversial policy is instead billed as a way to "free up more living space for overcrowded families", but has nevertheless been widely dubbed a "bedroom tax",[16][17] and has led to comparisons to the 17th century window tax.[18][19] While originally unofficial, the term gained wide acceptance even before it came into force in April 2013, even being used by public organizations.[20][21] Further controversy was raised when it emerged that paedophiles and rapists will be exempt from the tax, the loophole arising from the fact that they are not allowed to rent out rooms.[22]

Newspapers and Advertising – "Knowledge tax"

Newspapers were taxed in the United Kingdom from 1712 until 1853. The original tax was increased with the 1814 Stamp Act, when it was stipulated at 4d per copy. Since this made it extremely expensive for working-class families (doubling the price of a newspaper), it was pejoratively referred to as a "Tax on Knowledge", with people forced to rent newspapers on a per-hour basis, or else pool money together in order to buy and share. This resulted in a situation where even out-of-date newspapers were widely sought-after.[23][24]

Advertisement Duty was also stipulated in the same laws and was also charged on a "per unit" basis, irrespective of the size or nature of the advertisement. Until 1833 the cost was 3s 6d, after which it was reduced to 1s 6d.[25][26]



Share of federal excise taxes paid by US households reporting different income levels, 1979-2007

Both the federal and provincial governments impose excise taxes on inelastic goods such as cigarettes, gasoline, alcohol, and for vehicle air conditioners. A great bulk of the retail price of cigarettes and alcohol are excise taxes. The vehicle air conditioner tax is currently set at $100 per air conditioning unit. Canada has some of the highest rates of taxes on cigarettes and alcohol in the world. These are sometimes referred to as sin taxes.

United States

In the United States, the term "excise" has at least two meanings: (A) any tax other than a property tax or capitation (i.e., an excise is an indirect tax in the constitutional law sense), or (B) a tax that is simply called an excise in the language of the statute imposing that tax (an excise in the statutory law sense, sometimes called a "miscellaneous excise"). An excise under definition (A) is not necessarily the same as an excise under definition (B).

An excise (under definition B) has been defined as '"a tax upon manufacture, sale or for a business license or charter, as distinguished from a tax on real property, income or estates."[27]

Both the federal and state governments levy excise taxes on goods such as alcohol, motor fuel, and tobacco products. The laws of the federal government and of some state governments impose excises[28][29] known as the income tax. Even though federal excise taxes are geographically uniform, state excise taxes vary considerably. Taxation constitutes a substantial proportion of the retail prices on alcohol and tobacco products.

Local governments may also impose an excise tax. For example, the city of Anchorage, Alaska charges a cigarette tax of $1.30 per pack, which is on top of the federal excise tax and the state excise tax. In 2011, the United States federal excise tax on gasoline was 18.4 cents per gallon (4.86 ¢/L) and 24.4 cents per gallon (6.45 ¢/L) for diesel fuel.[30]

United Kingdom

Her Majesty's Customs and Excise (HMCE) was, until April 2005, a department of the British Government in the UK. It was responsible for the collection of Value added tax (VAT), Customs Duties, Excise Duties, and other indirect taxes such as Air Passenger Duty, Climate Change Levy, Insurance Premium Tax, Landfill Tax and Aggregates Levy. It was also responsible for managing the import and export of goods and services into the UK. HMCE was merged with the Inland Revenue (which was responsible for the administration and collection of direct taxes) to form a new department, HM Revenue and Customs, with effect from 18 April 2005.

The tax was first implemented in the UK under this name in the mid-17th century.


In India, almost all manufactured products are included for excise duty, provided following conditions are fulfilled:

  • Manufacture of Goods must take place
  • Those should be Excisable Goods
  • That too, they must be manufactured in India.

In India, for getting excise tax, Govt. of India has made Automation of Central excise and service tax. with this, manufacturer can easily pay their excise tax online on every 5th of following the month through GAR-7.


Germany charges the following excise taxes:

  • energy:
    • gasoline: 65.45 ct/l (c. 7.3 ct/kWh)
    • diesel: 47.04 ct/l (c. 4.7 ct/kWh)
    • LPG: 16.6 ct/kg (c. 8.96 ct/l or 1.29 ct/kWh)
    • CNG: 18.03 ct/kg (c. 1.39 ct/kWh)
    • heating oil: 13.00 ct/kg (c. 1.19 ct/kWh)
  • electricity:
    • default: 2.05 ct/kWh
    • for trains, trams, etc.: 1.142 ct/kWh
  • nuclear fuel:
    • 145 €/g
  • intermediate products in production of alcoholic beverages:
    • default: 1.53 €/l
    • alcoholic contents < 15%: 1.02 €/l
    • intermediate products in champagne production: 1.36 €/l
  • tobacco:
    • cigarettes: 9.44 ct/cigarette + 21.8% of the gross price
    • pipe tobacco: 15.66 €/kg + 13.13% of the gross price
    • cigars: 1.4 ct/cigar + 1.47% of the gross price
  • coffee:
    • roasted: 2.19 €/kg
    • instant: 4.78 €/kg
  • beer: c. 9.4 ct/l, depends on the type of beer
  • spirits
  • champagne:
    • alcoholic contents < 6%: 0.51 €/l
    • alcoholic contents >= 6%: 1.36 €/l
  • alcopops: 0.0555 €/l pure alcohol

Machinery of implementation

An excise duty is applied by the affixation of revenue stamps to the products being sold. In the case of tobacco or alcohol, for example, the producer buys a certain bulk amount of excise stamps from the government and is then obliged to affix one to every packet of cigarettes or bottle of spirits produced.

A government-owned alcohol monopoly is another way to ensure payment of the taxes.


Critics of excise tax have interpreted and described excise duty as simply a government's way of levying further and unnecessary taxation on the population. The presence of "refunds of duty" under the UK's list of excisable activities has been used to support this argument, as it results in taxation being implemented on persons even where they would normally be exempt from paying other types of taxes – hence why they are getting the refund in the first place.

Furthermore, excise is often somewhat similar to other taxes and sometimes doubles up with them, or as in the case of customs duties: since the two taxes largely apply to the same types of goods, people are forced to pay tax twice over on the same items (except in the case of duty-free) - once through excise upon purchase and a second time around through customs duties upon transportation. (A justification for this is that the country the items are being imported into is applying the customs partly for the same reasons as the original excise was charged, as it is the country of import which will suffer the ill environmental, health and social effects of, say, the cigarettes and alcohol being brought in; thus customs has many similar pros and cons as has excise.)

Taxation on medicines, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment has been an issue of contention, especially in developing countries, due to the fact that this tax can result in inflated prices of ordinary and even potentially lifesaving medication, as well as raise the cost of medical procedures, sometimes forcing healthcare providers to limit the number of operations performed.[31]

As far as illegal drugs are concerned, it has also been argued that, by taxing banned substances, some US states are able to gain revenues, while the legislation protects the anonymity of the dealers –

A dealer is not required to give his/her name or address when purchasing stamps and the Department is prohibited from sharing any information relating to the purchase of drug tax stamps with law enforcement or anyone else.[6]

See also


  1. ^ "6 2/3c Beer revenue stamp proof single". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved Sep 30, 2013. 
  2. ^ HM Revenue & Customs, Excise Duty - Index (see list along left-hand side of page). Retrieved - July 2009.
  3. ^ Australian Taxation Office, Businesses - Excise. Retrieved - July 2009.
  4. ^ Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776), Bk.V, Ch.2, Art.IV; retrieved Sep.24, 2012.
  5. ^ Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, Ninth Ed. (London, 1805), Vol.2; retrieved Nov.3, 2009.
  6. ^ a b c Kansas Department of Revenue, Tax Types: Drug Tax Stamp. Retrieved - July 2013.
  7. ^ Stamp Act History Project, "Stamp Act, 1765".  Retrieved - July 2009.
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Prostitution tax an option for Nevada Legislature, by Geoff Dornan, North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, 23 Mar 2009. Retrieved - July 2009.
  10. ^ "Canada Preparing to Legalize Prostitution?". ,, 25 Feb 2005. Retrieved - July 2009.
  11. ^ "P. Duk. Inv. 314: Agathis, Strategos and Hipparches of the Arsinoite Nome".  by J.D. Sosin & J.F. Oates, University of Cologne, 1997. Mention of salt tax in early 3rd century papyrus (pp. 6-7). Retrieved - July 2009.
  12. ^ "The Salt March To Dandi".  by Scott Graham, Emory University, 1998. Discussion of salt excise in 1930s India. Retrieved - July 2009.
  13. ^ Routledge Library of British Political History – Labour and Radical Politics 1762-1937, p.327
  14. ^ Deciphering UK Window Tax The History Of An Ancient Taxation System, The Lingo Berries, 23 Oct 2012. Retrieved Dec 2012.
  15. ^ And You Thought The Irs Was Heartless, The Chicago Tribune, 24 Oct 1999. Retrieved Dec 2012.
  16. ^ How will the housing benefit changes work?, BBC, 15 Mar 2013. Retrieved April 2013.
  17. ^ Letters: This ‘immoral and idiotic bedroom tax’ penalises a carer couple, The Independent, 7 April 2013. Retrieved April 2013.
  18. ^ Once we had to pay a Window Tax. Now it’s the Bedroom Tax, Rothera Dawson Solicitors, Dec 2012. Retrieved April 2013.
  19. ^ Sheffield dad wins battle against 'bedroom tax' changes, The Sheffield Star, 8 April 2013. Retrieved April 2013.
  20. ^ "Bedroom Tax"- Size Criteria in the Social Rented Sector, Perth and Kinross Council, 25 Mar 2013. Retrieved April 2013.
  21. ^ Bedroom Tax – What do the changes mean?, National Housing Federation. Retrieved April 2013.
  22. ^ Rapists will be exempt from bedroom tax in Northern Ireland, Belfast Telegraph, 8 April 2013. Retrieved April 2013.
  23. ^ Taxes on Knowledge, Spartacus Educational. Retrieved April 2013.
  24. ^ "What was known as a 'Tax on Knowledge'?", Consulted April 2013.
  25. ^ "Advertisement" definition, Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th Edition, 1901. Retrieved April 2013.
  26. ^ Advertisement Duty. Russian Movements. Denmark. The United States in Europe., Karl Marx, 5 Aug 1853. Retrieved April 2013.
  27. ^'s Legal Dictionary
  28. ^ ""[T]axation on income [is] in its nature an excise...", A unanimous United States Supreme Court in Brushaber v. Union Pacific R. Co., 240 U.S. 1 (1916),
  29. ^ "[The] tax upon gains, profits, and income [is] an excise or duty, and not a direct tax, within the meaning of the constitution, and [] its imposition [is] not, therefore, unconstitutional." United States Supreme Court, Springer v. United States, 102 U.S. 586 (1881) (as summarized in Pollock v. Farmer's Loan & Trust, 158 U.S. 601, (1895)).
  30. ^ Fueling America: A Snapshot of Key Facts and Figures
  31. ^ WHO/HAI Project on Medicine Prices and Availability, WHO and Human Awareness Inetitute, May 2011. Retrieved Apr 2013.
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