An echo from the past

During the early 1980s, when state drinking ages were fluctuating wildly across the nation, Vermonters held firm with an 18 year-old drinking age until forced to raise it to 21 by the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. Then-governor Richard Snelling vetoed the state legislature’s attempts to raise the drinking age to 19 twice, once in 1982 and once in 1983. Snellings primary opposition to raising the drinking age arose from the belief that it is contradictory to allow 18 year-olds to vote and enlist in the army but not to consume alcohol. He also believed that the raising the drinking age would do little to change the complex issue of alcohol abuse, especially among young people“Until such time as adults cease believing that being drunk is funny or socially acceptable, there is no reason to expect any significant change in the behavior of our young people.” (As quoted in “Vermont continues to resist rise in drinking age,” UPI Wire, 20 April 1983)

Even more interesting than Snelling’s measured opposition to a higher drinking age were his ideas for addressing the problem of drunk driving and alcohol abuse among young people. In 1982, he proposed a required alcohol education course for all 18-20 year olds and a special ID card that would allow them to purchase alcohol after completing the course.

“‘There is no single stroke-of-the pen solution to the very complex social problem of teen-age drinking,’ Snelling said

‘Educational programs have been effective and I believe it is perfectly proper and prudent that young adults ages 18-20 who want to drink in Vermont be exposed to the laws of Vermont regarding alcohol and the tragic costs of its abuse.’

A Snelling aide said he was unaware of a similar program anywhere else in the country.

In April, Snelling vetoed a bill raising Vermont’s legal drinking age from 18 to 19, saying that if 18-year-olds are old enough to vote, they are old enough to drink.

Since then, however, his Democratic opponent in the 1982 gubneratorial race, Lt. Gov. Madeleine Kunin, has made a campaign issue out of the question.

Timothy Hayward, executive assistant to the governor, said Snelling’s proposal would require all 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds, even those from out of state, to have a special ID card showing they’ve attended the class in order to buy alcohol in Vermont.” (“Governor would require drinking course for youths,” Associated Press, 10 June 1982)

The ideas behind Snelling’s 25 year-old remarks are echoed clearly in Choose Responsibility’s own proposal to lower the drinking age to 18 through a system of education and licensing. Perhaps Vermont’s long time governor was onto a winning idea that just needed a few decades to percolate!


5 Responses to “An echo from the past”

  1. Jason Says:

    What can we say about mlda 25? This law set in India.There people in MADD and others who want to set this law in US.

  2. Peter Hansen Says:

    Well, here in Denmark we do not have an age limit of alcohol consumption and a 16-year limit of alcohol purchase. So if the boy had been a Dane, he should have celebrated his birthday one day later, and he would not have to involve his parents at all.

    Why do we have such limits?

    We have discovered that youth use alcohol as a kind of phase that should be done with once they can drive a car. So they have two years where the parents can observe them and their way of drinking. If they show that they cannot control it, it means no drivers license.

    This strategy results in a low number of people killed in alcohol related accidents. If you compare your numbers to ours in Denmark, you will find that ours are very low. (15 people killed per 1,000,000 for the whole year of 2006)

    We have adjusted our laws on several occasions in order to spare lives and we find that making the introduction to alcohol an assignment for the parents and not the police remove the need for secrecy. Some youth as young as 8 have been spotted in the streets drinking making it very easy for adults to spot them and tell their parents, so it can be a subject for discussion in the family. Most parents introduce alcohol for their child at an age between 13 and 15 as a part of the confirmation, which is an Old Danish custom.

  3. Robin T Says:

    Instead of the bureaucracy of a licensing program, I would like to suggest a Graduated Drinking Age approach covering individuals ages 18 to 20.
    Currently, the PURCHASE and most PUBLIC possession of alcohol is prohibited for all individuals under the age of 21 (as per the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act). The Federal Law does not prohibit minors from possessing and consuming alcoholic beverages in PUBLIC when accompanied by a parent, spouse or legal guardian age 21 or older nor does it prohibit possession and consumption in PRIVATE. (cf.,
    I would like to see the federal law prohibiting the PURCHASE of alcoholic beverages remain in place. I would like to see those State laws that added additional restrictions modified to allow
    a) PUBLIC possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages for people between the ages of 18-20 when accompanied by a parent, spouse or legal guardian, and
    b) PRIVATE possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages for people between the ages of 18-20.

  4. Marshall Guthrie Says:

    “b) PRIVATE possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages for people between the ages of 18-20.”

    I think that private, un-moderated, potentially dangerous drinking is what we are looking to reduce. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it should be illegal, but I just wanted to make clear that I wouldn’t consider it the goal.

    Bard College

  5. Ajax the Great Says:

    I am all for lowering the drinking age to 18, period, as well as better and more honest alcohol education, but the licensing idea should be dropped. There is no hard evidence that the latter would have any benefits, since there is no precedent anywhere in the world for such a thing. It would be a bureaucratic nightmare to enforce, and frankly just makes the movement appear quixotic rather than pragmatic. And comparing it to driving (a primarily skills-based activity) is a disanalogy.

    Education needs to begin long before 18 in order to be most effective. But a crash course for all ages couldn’t hurt.

    I also think that such special restrictions for 18-20 year olds, who are otherwise legal adults, are still too much like second-class citizenship. Eighteen is too old for training wheels, so to speak, as long as that remains the age of majority. Few other adult rights are treated this way. Either you’re an adult or you’re not. 18-20 year olds should have the same rights that 21 year olds currently enjoy.

    A more libertarian alternative would be the “blacklist,” in which all are given the benefit of the doubt upon turning 18 with regards to drinking, but those convicted at ANY age for drunk driving, drunk violence, or buying for minors (under 18) would, in addition to other penalties, lose the right to purchase alcohol or enter bars for a year or until 21, whatever is longer. A “flag” would be placed on the person’s ID saying not to serve that person under penalty of law, and the person’s name will be put on a list available to every alcohol seller. Buying for a blacklisted person would carry the same penalties as buying for a minor. This scheme would likely work better than any license, and not being able to go to the bar with one’s friends is a great deterrent to misbehavior. However, I also would be fine with lowering the drinking age to 18 without such a scheme.

    However, if we really want to be anal, the following restrictions on 18-20 year olds would likely work better than any licensing scheme:

    1)No purchases of kegs, cases, or other bulk alcohol until 21.

    2)Quantity limits of no more than an 18-pack of beer, one gallon of wine, or one fifth of liquor per person per day.

    These would alleviate fears of increased high school keggers.

    And, it should go without saying, but we need to get much tougher on drunk driving. Regardless of what the drinking age is.

    Keep in mind that I’m currently 25, or, as I like to say, 18 with 7 years of experience.