Let's not lower the drinking age

Friday, May 2, 2008

An old argument is resurfacing around the country with curious results.

According to Fox News, seven states are considering a lower drinking age, and it's often advanced with an argument some of us can remember from 40 years ago.

If a man's old enough to fight and die for his country, he should be old enough to buy a drink, the reasoning goes. The only updating the Vietnam-era axiom needs is including women.

Legislation introduced in Kentucky, Wisconsin and South Carolina would lower the drinking age for military personnel only. The thinking may be -- and may be correct -- that a "drinking license" that accompanies enlistment should help solve the military's recruitment problems.

Proposals in other states have no such ties, however.

A ballot initiative in Missouri would lower the drinking age for everyone 18 and older. In South Dakota, an initiative would allow all 19- and 20-year olds to buy low-alcohol beer. Vermont may appoint a task force to study the issue, and a Minnesota bill would allow anyone 18 and older to buy alcohol in bars or restaurants, but not in liquor stores until they're 21.

One major hinderance to lowering the drinking age is federal highway funding, which would be cut for any state that loosens rules covering driving under the influence blood levels and drinking ages. But, there's even an online petition asking Congress to lower the drinking age.

There are plenty of other reasons to leave the drinking age alone, however.

For instance, nationwide, one out of 11 people admitted to having driven when they considered themselves drunk -- within the previous 30 days.

Ironically, the states with the highest rates of driving under the influence of alcohol included some of the same ones considering allowing younger people to drink.

States with the highest rates of driving under the influence of alcohol in the past year among adults 18 years or older included Wisconsin with 26.4 percent, North Dakota with 24.9 percent, Minnesota with 23.5 percent, Nebraska with 22.9 and South Dakota 21.6 percent.

If highway slaughter that could be attributed to driving under the influence of alcohol isn't enough, there are plenty of other reasons not to lower the drinking age.

According to reliable studies:

* The earlier a person begins using alcohol, the greater the risk of current and adult drug use, and harm to the developing brain.

* When the minimum legal purchase age was increased from 18 to 21, states observed an average 16 percent decrease in the rate of vandalism arrests, compared to an average 1.7 percent increase in states with a legal age of 18.

* Australia's lowering of the drinking age was associated with an increase of 20 percent to 25 percent in cases of male delinquency, and two Australian states found "a significant increase" in hospital admissions a sa result of non-traffic alcohol-related accidents.

* High school seniors who could not legally drink until age 21 drank less before 21 and between ages 21-25 than did seniors in states with lower drinking ages.

* A 1978 study found that 10th-12th graders in states with lower drinking ages drank significantly more, were less likely to abstain from alcohol, and were drunk more often than students in states with a drinking age of 21.

Let's not compound problems resulting from alcohol by surrendering to them, nor making a misguided attempt to associate them with honorable service to our country.

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