Archive for September, 2007

Democrats debate drinking age

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

At last night’s debate at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College the field of Democratic candidates were asked whether they supported removing the federal highway penalty that has forced states to adopt a 21 year-old drinking age. Delaware senator Joe Biden claimed such a measure would be counter-productive given the rates of fetal alcohol syndrome in America. Chris Dodd (D-CT), agreeing with Biden, stated that the law shouldn’t change considering that 50,000 people die on the roads each year, a significant portion of which are related to alcohol. Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson went on at some length about education. When moderator Tim Russert asked if any of the candidates favored lowering the age, only Mike Gravel (former Alaska senator) and Dennis Kucinich spoke up. Both took the position that if you can fight for your country then you should be able to have a beer. See the video for a full run down:

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]Though it is disappointing to find that no major candidate is willing to take issue with the status quo, it is even more disheartening to see the level of discussion on this issue to be so simple and uninformed. The general tone of those not in favor of lowering the age (or in this case simply removing the federal highway fund penalty) seems to be that since there are a host of negative outcomes associated with irresponsible alcohol use the best policy is to make alcohol illegal until 21. And what of those older than 21? Does fetal alcohol syndrome afflict only those children whose mothers are younger than 21? For those in support of the status quo I wonder how many realize that the US has both one of the highest drinking ages, but also one of the highest drunk driving rates in the modernized world. The disconnect between the problems the candidates are referencing and the purposes and effects of the law at hand is frightening.

And sadly, those who voiced support for lowering the age have very little interest in the substantive changes it would have. The age of majority issue is an important one but ultimately should play second fiddle to the environment Legal Age 21 breeds. The candidates must begin to inform their positions on the drinking age with the facts. Only then can we begin to talk seriously about the urgency of changing the status quo.

Safe Drinking Venues

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

As our nation’s colleges and universities continue to wrestle with campus alcohol policy — either strictly enforcing Legal Age 21 or turning a blind eye (both options leading to dangerous, underground, and off-campus drinking) — it is refreshing to see productive steps being taken to produce a safer drinking climate on-campus. We applaud the University of Vermont’s efforts to create a campus pub, which will generate an environment where alcohol accompanies, rather than determines, the activity. While the majority of UVM’s students still fall below the age of 21 and would not be served liquor in such a venue, the university has nevertheless committed itself to cultivating a more sensible campus attitude towards alcohol.

Ideally, such a venue would accommodate all college students above the age of eighteen, as everyone would benefit from access to a space defined by moderate and sensible drinking. We therefore strongly disagree with the with the editorial comment made by the Burlington Free Press:

Lowering the drinking age to 18 is not the answer because in part it would make alcohol more easily accessible to high schoolers and because of the drinking-and-driving issue.

We are firmly committed to an 18-year old drinking age that exists within a greater program of cultural and educational change. In lowering the drinking age, our intent is not to increase the prevalence of alcohol in the lives of those below the age of majority. Widely-respected laws galvanize citizens to action, breed communal enforcement, and justify more severe penalties for individuals who choose to violate them. If we agree that 18-year old adults have the right to consume alcohol in a safe setting, then we can create necessary safeguards to prevent the transfer of alcohol to their younger peers.

Breathalyzer Accuracy

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

When blowing into a breathalyzer subjects with larger lung volume may have lower breath alcohol content than a subject with a small lung volume because these subjects do not need to exhale as great a fraction of their vital capacity. Breath physiology expert, Michael Hlastala estimates that breath tests may vary at least 20% from actual blood alcohol concentration.

Testimonial #2

Monday, September 24th, 2007

“I just read the article in Newsweek Magazine about your organization. I agree 100%. I am a 65 yr. old Grandma who grew up in NY State when the drinking age was 18 and I have always agreed with that age. I can’t believe that there isn’t more support for lowering the drinking age. Kids just need to grow up in a world that displays responsible drinking habits. Adults can make this happen!”


10% Highway Incentive

Friday, September 21st, 2007

A state that allows persons under 21 to legally purchase or publicly consume alcohol will loose 10% of its state highway funds. This “incentive” prompted all 29 of the states that had set ages lower than 21 to bring themselves into compliance with this federal guideline.

The Limits of Neurology

Friday, September 21st, 2007

It is wise to never take a stance on the limitations of science, since the argument will inevitably become outdated and sound ludicrous.  But I have a hunch that there is some serious overstatement occurring presently in the field of adolescent neurology.  An Op-ed in the NYTimes by Mike Males provides the painful details:

Commentators brand teenagers as stupid, crazy, reckless, immature, irrational and even alien, then advocate tough curbs on youthful freedoms. Jay Giedd, who heads the brain imaging project at the National Institutes of Health, argues that the voting and drinking ages should be raised to 25. Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, asks whether we should allow teenagers to be lifeguards or to enlist in the military. And state legislators around the country have proposed raising driving ages.  But the handful of experts and officials making these claims are themselves guilty of reckless overstatement. More responsible brain researchers — like Daniel Siegel of the University of California at Los Angeles and Kurt Fischer at Harvard’s Mind, Brain and Education Program — caution that scientists are just beginning to identify how systems in the brain work.

With regards to alcohol and adolescents (if that’s what we want to call 18-20 year-olds), there is neurological evidence that alcohol has more pronounced effects on younger brains than older brains in laboratory settings.  Where researchers are diverting from the trail of science, is when they begin to attribute real world behavioral differences strictly to neurological differences.  This may very well be the case, but the current research is presently incapable of assessing these behavioral connections.  Sadly, certain individuals in the field of neurology are potentially exaggerating the magnitude of adolescent/adult differences, and using the alleged behavioral evidence as an excuse to enact ever more stringent restrictions on young adults.

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.

Young Adults consume 50%

Friday, September 14th, 2007

A 1999 study found that young adults ages 18-29 (roughly 25% of the population) consumed nearly half of the total alcohol consumed. While behaviors naturally tend to be most pronounced when they first begin to occur, it is perplexing to think that roughly 11% of alcohol is consumed by individual for whom it is illegal.

Testimonial #20

Friday, September 7th, 2007

“Underage drinking and the futility of Legal Age 21 has been a concern of mine for 20 years — since I saw the negative impact on my own college campus. I attended a small liberal arts college in the mid-1980s. When I began college (in Pennsylvania) in 1984, I believe the State had recently adopted Legal 21. However, the college administration and campus police turned a blind eye to drinking on campus as long as parties were not out of control, students were not drinking and driving, and other illegal activities were not occurring. This situation presented inherent contradictions — an object lesson in “some rules are made to be broken”. However, the social life was balanced — light social drinking occurred in public, and friends and older students kept an eye on those that might have a tendency to abuse alcohol. There was alcohol abuse, but not nearly as much as began to occur during my senior year, when the “crack down” began. The “crack down” was largely driven by insurance companies, who, scared by a few alcohol related deaths on some campuses, threatened to pull policies or increase premiums if colleges didn’t have strict no tolerance policies for alcohol. I watched as the social life degenerated to include small groups binge drinking behind closed doors, then wandering around looking for large (now largely non existent) social activities or just never making it out of their dorm rooms — often adding illegal drugs to the alcohol binges. A few years after I graduated, we had our first alcohol related death on campus.

“I studied at the University of Bremen during the summer of 1986. If I recall correctly, the legal drinking age was 16 at the time. People certainly enjoyed their beer in Germany, but, despite attending many social events, I never encountered a chugging contest, people doing “shots”, and certainly no drunk driving. Binge drinking was completely “uncool’ there — certainly not a part of the student culture.

“It is inexplicable to me that the same federal government that courts 18 year-olds to join the military, carry a gun, and die for our country doesn’t trust them to handle alcohol responsibly. Am I to believe that the young Marines completing basic training celebrate with a tall skim latte?

“You have inspired me to take some action. This week, I am attending a fundraiser for major donors of my undergraduate alma mater. I intend to discuss this issue with the most senior college official at the event (hopefully the college President) and will direct them to your web site if they aren’t already aware of your organization. I will also alert my Congressman and Senators of this issue the next time they solicit a donation from me for their reelection campaign.”


Bethesda, MD

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!