Archive for the 'drinking age' Category

Montana Democrats Support a Lower Drinking Age

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

On Saturday, the Montana Democratic Party passed a resolution in favor of lowering the drinking age to 18, thereby adding reconsidering the drinking age to their official platform.  Many of their arguments in favor of lowering the drinking age are remarkably similar to ours; read more about it here.

Binge Drinking Deaths Increasing

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

A new Associated Press study, announced yesterday, has revealed that 157 college-age people (aged 18 to 23) drank themselves to death between 1999 and 2005, and that the number of alcohol-poisoning deaths per year rose from 18 in 1999 to 35 in 2005.  Interestingly, 83 of the people who died were under the legal drinking age of 21. 

Additional analysis revealed that college students are more likely to die from binge drinking-related alcohol poisoning than non-college students, and that freshmen are most at risk during their first semester at college.  With the legal drinking age set at 21, people (especially underage drinkers) are dying from binge drinking, and the number of deaths is continuing to climb due to the common mentality of “if you’re under 21 and someone’s got alcohol, you’ve got to drink it, because you never know when somebody’s going to have it again.”   

Some colleges have begun to adopt programs to educate students about responsible drinking—an important first step that will hopefully have some good consequences in the future.  Regardless, this new study really points out a vital question:  Is 21 working?

[CR] and the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

The National Conference of State Liquor Administrators held their annual convention this past week in Chicago, and MLDA 21 was a major topic of discussion.  Our very own John McCardell was there to argue towards a lower drinking age, meeting opposition from the American Medical Association and others.  The convention has received a lot of coverage, and we encourage you to check out Fox News and ABC News links for some video clips and more information about the drinking age discussion.


Also, to see a more in-depth interview with John McCardell, and to hear more about [CR]’s position on the drinking age, take a look at this clip from Chicago Tonight on WTTW11, PBS Chicago.

New Study Examines Legal Age 21

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

A new study, published in Accident Analysis and Prevention, has examined minimum legal drinking age 21 and drunk driving fatalities over the last few decades, and concludes that there has been decreases in teen drunk driving fatalities since MLDA 21 went into effect.  The study also reports that laws enforcing strict punishment for the use of fake IDs are significantly effective in reducing drunk driving fatalities, according to U.S. News & World Report.  Interestingly, one of the primary researchers for the study is a former board member for MADD…

This review by U.S. News & World Report is a prologue to an upcoming, larger article on teen brain research and the role of alcohol.  We are interested to see what the authors come up with, and will keep you posted on the status of that piece.

“New Beer’s Eve”

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

Happy “New Beer’s Eve!” (Well, a bit belated).  75 years ago yesterday, April 7, beer started flowing legally in America for the first time in 14 years. Under the 18th Amendment and Prohibition, all “alcoholic” and “intoxicating” beverages — defined by the Volstead Act as substances containing more than 0.5% alcohol — were banned.  While the amendment to repeal Prohibition was brewing before Franklin D. Roosevelt stepped into office, ratification was still months away, and the president decided that it was time to take an important first-step towards repeal. The Cullen-Harrison Act raised the threshold of alcohol “intoxication” from 0.5% to 3.2%, thereby permitting the sale and consumption of 3.2% beer — the only alcoholic drink permitted for the next 8 months. 

 Beyond representing a victory of “wets” over “drys,” the legalization of 3.2% beer helped moderate what had become an excessive and reckless use of alcohol by the American public under Prohibition. Bathtub gin in underground speakeasies was replaced by beer in public gatherings, and a covert and corrupt production network by a regulated industry offering economic and employment benefits.  The result? An era of greater responsibility and a healthier national attitude towards alcohol.

Sound familiar? We have a lot to learn from 3.2% beer today, as 18 to 20 year-olds face a modern-day prohibition. Surely, the majority of them continue to drink, but their behavior, like that of their counterparts under the 18th Amendment, has become reckless, excessive, and geared towards the product that is most readily accessible and potent to them — hard liquor.  The act of “pre-gaming” with shots of vodka in basements or dorm rooms has become the norm, as young adults no longer have access to public gatherings where alcohol is served in moderation. Parents and educators lose their capacity to educate young adults about the risks and rewards of drinking, and as a result, the instructor role has been transferred to fraternity brothers and college roommates — hardly pillars of moderation. Further, as in the 1920s and 1930s, enforcement is lax, helping to breed disrespect for law.

 Americans in the 1930s realized that laws must reflect reality, and that safety and moderation are more important than lofty yet unattainable social experiments. It is for this realization that we celebrate April 7, 1933 and continue to work to find our own equivalent middle ground of 3.2% beer.

 Interested in learning more? Try these.

Los Angeles Times


What about 19?

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

What do we think of a 19 year-old drinking age? Many of you have asked us this question, particularly concerned that an 18-year-old drinking age would translate to the widespread transfer of alcohol to high school students. This question is reasonable, and our response is as follows:

The age of majority is 18. At 18, young adults can vote, enlist in the military, serve on a jury, smoke, marry, and enter binding contracts. In the court system, they can be legally held accountable for their actions as adults. The “Fight at 18, Drink at 21?” argument is simple and powerful because it reflects the societal reality of what it means to be an adult. Interestingly, Legal Age 21, by forcing the consumption of alcohol out of the open, has infantalized these “adults.”

 Then there arises the question of infantile behavior. Indeed, 95 percent of those who will be alcohol consumers in their lifetime drank alcohol before the age of 21. Drinking is a reality in the lives of young adults; however, given the restrictions of Legal Age 21, they lack an opportunity to learn about moderate and sensible drinking from adults they respect. The result, understandably, has been infantile behavior that, given the present law, is difficult to change.

We believe that a lower drinking age will breed a more responsible culture of alcohol consumption. This will not necessarily happen independently, but rather, through a combination of education and licensing. These programs are fundamental to our proposal, as they help not only introduce young adults to the rights and responsibilies of legal alcohol consumption, but also help provide incentives that will limit the types of behavior implicit in your question. The timing of the drinking license (delivered after high school graduation), compounded with a more socially acceptable legal drinking age, will confer privileges that we believe will limit the transfer of alcohol to high school students.

 That brings us to the fundamental question — what about 19? The fact is, though our proposals make clear the benefits of a uniform age of majority (in conjunction with educational programs), we believe that a lower drinking age — of whatever number — is more important.  Most important, however, is public debate.

Until the federal highway appropriation condition is lifted, no state can be expected to engage in an informed public dialogue about the most appropriate drinking age for its territory. We believe that 18 with education works, but 19 works too. While not as glamorous as lowering the drinking age, the necessary first-step is fighting to lift the 10% highway condition, so that proponents of both 18 and 19 can be heard.

 We encourage you to discuss the merits of both 18 and 19. This topic is gaining traction in South Dakota, where a young lawyer from Flandreau, N. Bob Pesall, is starting a movement to lower the drinking age to 19. His efforts overlap with those of South Dakota state senator, Bill Napoli, who appears to be aiming for 18. Which do you prefer? Make your voice heard.

Call and Response

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

In the interest of full disclosure, we present below both the link to MADD’s press release and the text of Choose Responsibility’s response.

Science speaks for itself” (MADD press release). Indeed it does. While it is true that “almost 50 peer-reviewed studies” have “found that an increased drinking age significantly lowers alcohol-related fatalities” (MADD press release), an equal number of studies have found no relationship between the drinking age and alcohol-related fatalities (Wagenaar and Toomey, 2002).

Thus, if science is allowed to speak for itself, we must not listen selectively.

While it is true that alcohol-related traffic fatalities have declined since the age was raised to 21, the downward trend began before the law was changed, and it has remained essentially flat for the last decade (NHTSA). Meanwhile, more than 1,000 18-24 year-old lives are being lost to alcohol each year off the roadways, and this number is increasing at an alarming rate (Hingson, 1998, 2001). These lives are being put at risk in the dark corners and behind the closed doors to which Legal Age 21 have banished them.

Thus, we need to look at all the ways alcohol, and the drinking age, put lives at risk, not just at traffic fatalities. The 21 year-old drinking age has forced drinking underground. Clandestine, goal-oriented, unsupervised drinking, a consequence of Legal Age 21, is putting an increasing number of young adult lives at risk.

While it is true that “the neurotoxic effect of excessive alcohol use” (MADD press release) can affect the development of the adolescent brain, no one is advocating excessive alcohol use. Researchers involved in studies of the adolescent brain have stated that, unless the drinking age is raised to 25, when the adolescent brain is fully developed, there is nothing magical about some other age. Indeed, at least one such researcher, Professor Scott Swartzwelder of Duke University, has stated that his studies do “not mean that an 18 year-old who has a beer or two every couple of weeks is doing irreparable damage to her brain. It is the 18 year-old (or 30 year-old for that matter!) who downs five or six drinks on his way to a dance that worries me.”

Thus, we mustn’t be misled by scare tactics. We must listen carefully to what scientists are saying. Most of the rest of the world, where the age is lower than 21, exhibits no evidence of brain impairment. Moderate, responsible use of alcohol poses little neurological risk. Excessive use of alcohol, at any age, may be health- or life-threatening. Clandestine drinking, fostered by Legal Age 21, raises that threat.

UVM Panel

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

“Is the 21 Year-Old Drinking Age Working?”
Panel Discussion at the University of Vermont

September 20, 12:30-1:30, Frank Livak Ballroom at the Davis Center

Sponsored by the Center for Health and Wellbeing and Choose Responsibility
Refreshments will be provided

Have you always thought of the drinking age as a settled question? Think again! Come join in an open panel discussion of the issues surrounding the 21 year-old drinking age. In place for more than two decades, the 21 year-old drinking age has had profound effects on young adults, and on college and university communities across the country. This discussion will highlight the arguments on both sides of the question. Panelists include Jay Taylor ’10, UVM police chief Gary Margolis, executive director of MADD Massachusetts, and former Middlebury College President and director of Choose Responsibility. Vermont Cynic editor Austin Danforth ‘08 will moderate the panel. Please come prepared with your questions and opinions on this important policy question.

We hope to see you there! Contact the [CR] office at 802-398-2024 or email if you have questions about the event.

Some words for Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Glynn Birch, issued this response to the recent Parade Magazine article, “Should the Drinking Age be Lowered?

“We are deeply disappointed in Parade Magazine’s flawed article on the discussions centered around lowering the drinking age. Unfortunately, Parade decided to emphasize the junk science promoted by a few over the longstanding and substantial, peer-reviewed evidence that proves the 21 law saves lives. The fact is there are at least 23,000 Americans alive today because of the 21 law.

It is regrettable that our friends at MADD, with whom we share an unambiguous opposition to drunk driving, have chosen such intemperate language to respond to the August 12 article in Parade Magazine. The following facts cannot be so easily dismissed as “junk science:”

  • According to Ralph Hingson, in two separate peer-reviewed studies, more than 1,000 18-24 year-old lives are lost to alcohol each year in places other than on the roads. That number has been increasing since 1998.
  • According to NHTSA, more lives were saved in two years (2002 and 2003) than have allegedly been saved in the history of Legal Age 21.
  • According to Alexander Wagenaar, fewer than half of the peer reviewed studies on the subject have shown any relationship between the drinking age and the decline in alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

–[CR] Director John McCardell

You may also want to check out, MADD’s (well-inspired) response to the increasing prominence of the drinking age debate. We believe that imitation is the highest form of flattery!

An echo from the past

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

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!