Letters to the Editor

Drinking age

August 26, 2008


To the editor:

Making the news this past week is a public statement signed by over 100 college presidents that want to dialogue on the subject of lowering the legal drinking age from 21 to 18. It is known as the Amethyst Initiative and originated with a former college president, John McCardell. These presidents recognize that alcohol is a big problem on their campuses and are trying to find a way to deal with it. Lowering the drinking age seems to be a way to avoid the responsibility these presidents have to control the problem.

My thanks to Chancellor Robert Hemenway for not signing this public statement. He realized the problem would not be solved by lowering the drinking age. The University of Wisconsin has taken steps to confront their problem. They are notifying the parents when a student is involved in public drunkenness. If the age were lowered to 18 that would involve many high school seniors. Even younger people would have friends in the 18-year-old age group that would supply alcohol to them.

Of course, one of the biggest reasons to keep the age at 21 is the number of deaths it prevents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that 900 lives annually have been saved since the drinking age was raised to 21. So, one wonders, what value do these presidents who signed the Amethyst Initiative put on the number of lives proven saved by the higher drinking age?

Frances Wood,


Tony Kisner 8 years ago

I gave up my constitutional law career shortly after leaving Jr. High. But how is targeting a law at a group of citizens not a violation of equal protection? Could we establish laws limiting other activities based on age, gender, race or shoe size? I am a little surprised a lawyer has not taken this up in a court case. But on the other hand typically you are over 21 when getting out of law school so your self-interest maybe somewhere else.- Not being a wise guy, does anyone know (no Jr. High/Bar Stool Constitutional Lawyers please!) if the law could be challenged based on discrimination?

SloMo 8 years ago

There are a lot of creative things we could do in this country but just don't have the collective will. Do you know in Costa Rica if you order a drink in a bar it is quite expensive, but you get a little plate of snacks with it. You spend more, you run out of money sooner, you drink slower, and you keep your stomach filled with food. Makes it hard to get falling down drunk.In Europe, of course, there are many, many, many good options for getting around, such as frequent, well-routed buses that run 24/7. You know that abortion truck that goes around the country? Maybe there should be a MADD truck with before and after car-crash pictures on it that tours the country. Might make more of an impression than those poignant roadside flower memorials.And why should it be so easy to get a driver's license?And here's another radical idea: an upper driving age limit. Because if senior citizens, with their numbers and the AARP to lobby for them, all needed good reliable and affordable public transportation, we'd have it in place tomorrow.

redwaggoner 8 years ago

mom_of_three: When your young-uns get old enough to drive are you going to supply them with all the beer and hard liquor they can drink and then send give them the keys to the family car send them out to klill or be killed? You must LOVE your booze!!

gr 8 years ago

"Sounds like redwaggoner has gone off the wagon himself."BuffyloGal, why do you say that just because he disagrees with your view? How was what he said out of step with reality?

Jennifer Forth 8 years ago

VTHawk - I lived in Australia for ten years and the drinking age there is still 18. They are considering changing it to 21 since the problems associated with drinking and driving as well as binge drinking are huge! Comparing the US with China is like apples and oranges.

Ragingbear 8 years ago

In other news, you can randomly generate numbers to say anything you want.

landon_alger 8 years ago

gr and redwaggoner:Logical fallacies abound with your arguments -- starting with redwaggoner's slippery slope transformation of mom_of_three's argument that "eligibility for compulsory military service should also make one eligible for the same privileges as others" into the ludicrous "you must want to get your kids loaded and force them to drive".Similarly, gr asks for a good reason to drink alcohol. Aside from health benefits from moderate alcohol consumption, the easiest response is along to utilize the same form of argument and to take gr's argument to the extreme -- name one good reason to allow people to consume McDonald's Big Macs or Burger King Whoppers. The real question should be what are the benefits, if any, of a 21 year old drinking age, and do they outweigh the total costs (transfer of law enforcement resources that could be used elsewhere, loss of productivity and future income due to convictions, loss of freedom to citizens, etc.) of alcohol use by those aged 18-20.

kansas778 8 years ago

ChristmasCarol (Anonymous) says: I can assure you that changing the drinking age will not change a persons ability to get alcohol:*******And I can assure you that it will. Being old enough to purchase means a person can go at any time the liquor store is open to purchase alcohol, whereas otherwise they have to rely on others who may not be available. This alone makes it more difficult, and then add on that not every 18 year old knows someone who is old enough to purchase that will do so willingly for them. I know when I was 18 I didn't have a bunch of friends that were 21. Doesn't mean I couldn't get it, it was just that much harder. The more roadblocks you put in someone's path, the less likely they are to obtain alcohol, and at the least, they will be able to obtain it less frequently.

VTHawk 8 years ago

Also, banning alcohol completely would save EVEN MORE lives. Why not?If 18 year olds are adults for every conceivable activity except running for Congress or the Presidency, why not drinking. Smoking kills FAR more people per year than drinking, yet we allow 18 year olds to purchase cigarettes.

kansas778 8 years ago

Easy_Does_It (Anonymous) says: how is targeting a law at a group of citizens not a violation of equal protection? Could we establish laws limiting other activities based on age, gender, race or shoe size?********Here's the thing, it is perfectly legal for the government to discriminate, as long as it has a reason. Depending on who is being discriminated against, how good that reason has to be is changed. So discriminating against racial minorities requires a very compelling reason to do so, and as such, any laws discriminating based on race are pretty much always struck down. Discriminating based on age, however, just requires any reason. In a case like this, all the government has to do is say they want to protect the public's health and safety, and that'll do. Oversimplified, but that's the gist.

any 8 years ago

In Germany the drinking age is 16, driving age is 18. Oh, and a license will require a driving school and around $1000. I guess they figure people can get all the crazy drinking out of the way prior to being able to drive. That and drinking and driving will sting more with a license being so much more expensive. If we're so worried about stupid driving maybe we need better driver education. It amazes me still how many Europeans won't have a single drop of alcohol if they're driving 3-4 hours later. They aren't worried about staying under the legal limit; they aren't going to have any at all. I'd guess that's due to better education and probably stricter laws.

gr 8 years ago

"College students with limited access to alcohol tend to overconsume when given the opportunity to drink,"You know any college students that are limited in their access? I didn't know any highschool students with limited access."and also tend to shift to so-called "hard alcohol" since it is easier to conceal."You are saying there are alcohols which are "bad"?!"as students inexperienced with drinking are thrust into an environment with an alcohol culture. "I'm confused how this would be an argument for lowering the age. Same problem exists. But then, thinking like those presidents, we just need to give them more experience in gradeschool. We could hand out "soft alcohol" samples to teach them to become "responsible alcoholics".kansas778: "This alone makes it more difficult, and then add on that not every 18 year old knows someone who is old enough to purchase that will do so willingly for them."Ah, we have a problem. Not every student knows someone old enough to purchase alcohol for them. Let's think like the presidents and make it available to them. Each school could have someone posted to supply the drinks."The more roadblocks you put in someone's path, the less likely they are to obtain alcohol, and at the least, they will be able to obtain it less frequently."Bravo! Good sell for keeping the age as high as possible.As far as the arguments about voting and serving our country go, just because you are able to do that, does that mean everything should be permissive? Of course the response would be drinking alcohol, which is a poison, is pseudo-legal - as in a two-faced hypocritical fashion. But, why should it be allowed? Can anyone name a good reason for drinking alcohol?

SloMo 8 years ago

any - and also not making alcohol a BFD.

mom_of_three 8 years ago

When the drinking age was changed to 21 in Kansas, I was one of those who made the age limit and didn't have to wait until I was 21. Didn't make me run to the store and drink, but lots of my friends did. I don't think having a 21 drinking age has made any difference in under age drinking. Where I grew up, any underage kid could find someone's sibling who was 21 to get alcohol for them. It still happens. My parents had alcohol in the house when I grew up. I didn't touch it. I have alcohol in the house occassionally and mine don't touch it. It's the rules you set up, and how you teach the kids. Just because you abstain from alcohol in the house, doesn't mean they won't have access to it somewhere else. We also don't drink and drive, as another lesson to the kids. If we expect them to follow it, then we should also. It's about education and responsibility, and teaching your kids. I don't know if changing the drinking age will make a difference on young drinkers.

number3of5 8 years ago

When my son, who is now in his fourties, was young, the age for being legal to drink was 18. This is nothing new. It did not work out then and it will not work out now. Parents, teach your children about alcohol. Don't buy it and bring it into your homes where they can have access to it. Don't place all of the responsibililty on colleges to try to stop the underage drinking. Start at home from birth to the day they do become of legal age. Parents of the world, step up and take responsibility for your children!

paavopetie 8 years ago

Cars need to start driving themselves. They already parallel park for us. And what about a minimum age of 18 AND a high school diploma?

gr 8 years ago

mom, again, just because you are able to do that (go to war), does that mean everything should be permissive?Can you name a good reason for drinking alcohol?

Jennifer Forth 8 years ago

A 16-yr-old may have the cognitive capability to drive, but your peripheral vision is not fully developed until you're 18. That means cars next to you might not be seen as easily. I'm not suggesting raising the age requirement, but I do think that the driver's ed we have at the moment could use improvement. In the long run, this would help with drinking and driving as well as a host of other problems.

Jennifer Forth 8 years ago

Sounds like redwaggoner has gone off the wagon himself.

compmd 8 years ago

I think the simple fact of the matter is that we, as Americans, are an irresponsible and immature society. We don't like to take responsibility for our own actions; we choose to actively do stupid things and then complain about the consequences. Our system of crimes and punishments with regard to alcohol and drivng are out of step with most of the rest of the western world. We are accustomed to things being easy, and we take great offense to anything that appears to restrict our freedoms. If people weren't so immature and just plain stupid, I wouldn't have a problem with lowering the drinking age. But just research the number of DUI convictions for drivers under 21 and tell me if you think they are mature enough to handle a lower drinking age.

VTHawk 8 years ago

John McCardell was the President of my college (Middlebury), and is a man whom I deeply respect. The simple fact is that the United States is an abberation in terms of underage drinking problems. I have spent time in countries with an 18 drinking age (China), as well as other countries with even looser laws. The simple fact is that alcohol is a huge part of the college experience in the United States, and the criminalization of its consumption leads to some dangerous externalities.I respectfully disagree with Mr. Wood's conclusion, and would like to point out some effects other than the 2% increase in highway deaths that the NHTSA estimates might occur without the 21 drinking age legislation. College students with limited access to alcohol tend to overconsume when given the opportunity to drink, and also tend to shift to so-called "hard alcohol" since it is easier to conceal. This results in an unfortunate number of sexual crimes (which, admittedly, also occur with the LEGAL consumption of alcohol) as students inexperienced with drinking are thrust into an environment with an alcohol culture. Students are often forced to drive to off-campus social gatherings (in the case of Middlebury, which is a residental campus), which actually forces more drunk drivers ONTO the roads. If the Amethyst Initiative was enacted, states would be free to set their own policies on drinking ages, and states (like Vermont) could experiment to see what works best for them. The Amethyst Initiative website: http://www.amethystinitiative.org/

SloMo 8 years ago

Lower the drinking age and raise the driving age!

mom_of_three 8 years ago

And why do you think someone should not drink alcohol, just because you evidently don't approve of it. And if someone at age 18 can go to war, and be killed, why should they not be allowed to drink alcohol. Let's give them a gun, show them how to use it, but they are not responsible enough to drink.

mom_of_three 8 years ago

I heard discussions on the radio about lowering the drinking age on military bases, because if you can fire a gun, vote for a president, why can't you be responsible enough to drink.

gr 8 years ago

" Aside from health benefits from moderate alcohol consumption,"Uhhh, what health benefits? Are you suggesting those which originated from the grape? Why not eat grapes? If that's what you are implying, would it be ok with you if all the alcohol was evaporated beforehand?"name one good reason to allow people to consume McDonald's Big Macs or Burger King Whoppers."Expected. Excepting, there is no age restriction on junk food. All are treated the same. Could you explain why something with "health benefits", unlike your junk food fallacy, should be prohibited at a certain age?"The real question should be what are the benefits, if any, of a 21 year old drinking age,"Another landon fallacy. Look back at why it was raised in the first place. Are you saying the reason for raising it was wrong? How will you know the reason for lowering it wouldn't be wrong?

denak 8 years ago

"I heard discussions on the radio about lowering the drinking age on military bases, because if you can fire a gun, vote for a president, why can't you be responsible enough to drink...:"I like to respond to this. I was in the Marines for 5 year. Lowering the drinking age on base would be a huge mistake! Servicemen and women do not drink any more responsibly than their counterparts in the civilian world. My friend was going to KU when I was in the service. The exact same kind of stupidity that goes on in the dorms, goes on in barracks. And Marines that are "college age" drink to excess just like college students.In fact, on Camp Pendleton it is an "honor," something to brag about when you are sent to level 3. Level three was the detox wing of the Naval Hospital there. Often times, when someone got out of Level 3 they are given a med(can't remember the name) that makes you throw up when you drink to much. This is suppose to work something like aversion therapy. But more often than not, the first thing someone did was go to the e-clubs(bars) and, with the encouragement of other Marines, see how long it took for him or her to throwup.No maturity there. And the last thing they are thinking about is dying for their country. I honestly do not think any base commander would advocate lowering the drinking age. That is just plain stupidity and would, in my opinon, undermine military readiness.Secondly, this idea that "if you are old enough to die, you are old enough to drink" denies the reality of why a person is in the service. 18, 19, 20, year olds are recruited in the service because they are fresh meat. Not because they are mature. They have physical strengh,are gullible and have few familial ties, to contend with, so they are easy to ship off and go get killed for the government.Kids that age are disposable. And that is why they are in the military. Dena

Charles L Bloss Jr 8 years ago

If people at 18 can fight and die for this country, they should be allowed to drink legally. Thank you, Lynn

angel4dennis 8 years ago

I have a daughter that is almost 18 and we argue over this subject to no end. I really see her point, if she is old enough to go into the military, vote on issues that will enevitably effect her in the future, and she can buy cigarettes that are known to cause cancer--why can she not legally purchase a 6 pack of beer and drink it in her own apartment? Makes more sense to me than continually saying no,no,no. Used to be a person could have a drink with their kids and no one said anything. It was like a tradition for men to pass down the "drinking" stories and bond with their sons. Now it is considered illegal and immoral if you give your kid yeast,hops, and barley. Wow!

landon_alger 8 years ago

gr:With respect to the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, obviously you don't keep up on health related news. Here is a quick link from a little known clinic on the subject matter:http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alcohol/SC00024That provides you with an example of the health benefits of an age regulated product.Now, with respect to the remainder of your response, I don't think you understand what I meant by fallacy. It does not simply mean a falsehood. I meant a logical fallacy.Now, you complain about the junk food analogy. First, you fail to cite a health benefit to eating either of my cited examples. You bring up the lack of an age restriction -- or what is known as a straw man (look it up in a logic text) -- presumably because you have no answer to me.In any event, junk food such as a Big Mac or Whopper causes more detriment to one's health than benefit. The fact that there is no age limit is irrelevant. Under your belief system, it seems that you would advocate a 21 year old age restriction on the consumption of junk food, because it saves lives.I do not understand why you ask about restricting something with health benefits by age. If you are implying that a Big Mac has health benefits, then I'm sure you advocate legalizing heroin -- it has pain killing effects that can be beneficial.As to your statements about why the drinking age was increased, it was a knee-jerk reaction to the problem of alcohol related fatalities. The reason to consider lowering the drinking age, which I did not necessarily advocate, would be if the costs outweigh the benefits. Obviously there is no crystal ball, or else legislators would know if the reasons for raising the age would be correct. That is why it should be studied before action is taken.

gr 8 years ago

landon, you throw out red herrings of junk food in your attempt at distraction. You are comparing apples to oranges. One is restricted, the other isn't. Why? You are the one saying junk food is so much worse with no health benefits. If there is to be a restriction due to harm, shouldn't junk food be one?Furthermore, your link does not explain anything of where the health benefits come from. Not sure why you gave that link. It does include several complications from drinking.But, you say you don't necessarily advocate lowering the drinking age. So, I'm not sure what your point is.

landon_alger 7 years, 12 months ago

gr:How is it a red herring or apples and oranges? Your argument is based upon a lack of health benefits. The same argument applied to junk food would require it to be restricted -- it has no health benefit. It causes high costs to society. Your argument is that alcohol is good for no one, so it follows that it should not be allowed for anyone, not even those over 21. Why should age 21 make a difference if our concern is for the health implications. I'm sorry if you cannot see this, but if that is your argument, junk food should be illegal.If you cannot read the information provided by the Mayo Clinic in the link I provided, we are done. You have no credibility.I have stated my point is that the issue should be considered rather than dismissed out of hand. I'm sorry you cannot understand that.

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