Some 100 college presidents, including six from Maryland have again raised the question of what is the proper age to allow legal consumption of alcohol. Predictably, their proposal to revisit the issue has raised a storm of protest from those who don't want to even debate the issue - their mind is made up.
Now many people won't drink alcohol at all for one reason or another, and I respect that, as long as they don't try to impose their beliefs on me. Most of us believe that a glass of beer or wine, or something stronger makes a pleasant accompaniment to a meal, a relaxing pause at the end of the day or a happy supplement to a party or get-together.
Prior to 1988, each state set it's own minimum age for consuming or purchasing alcoholic beverages. In 1988, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act which withheld Federal revenue from states that did not set 21 as the minimum age for purchasing or publicly drinking alcoholic beverages. It's worth noting that almost every other country (except for those that ban alcohol completely) has a lower minimum drinking age - usually 18 although in many countries the age is much lower.
Proponents of keeping the minimum age at 21 point to the significant decrease in drunk driving arrests for those 18-21 since the Act passed. It should be noted, however, that drunk driving arrests have decreased in every age bracket during that period as a result of changing social attitudes toward drinking and driving and increased enforcement. It should also be pointed out that there has been an increase in 'binge drinking' among youngsters 18-21 during the same period and hospitalization of the same group for alcohol poisoning has risen during the period.
My personal opinion is that everyone should be allowed to purchase and consume beer and/or wine at age 18 and distilled spirits at age 21.
First of all, the Act doesn't really prevent youngsters from drinking. I live only a few miles from Ocean City, Maryland and, despite heavy attempts at enforcement by the Ocean City Police, plenty of publicity about the dangers of drinking and checking of luggage and rooms by hotel proprietors, there is plenty of drinking by the high school graduates that come every June. In fact, I have never met a young person between say, 16 and 21, who didn't think he or she could get alcohol when and if it was wanted.
Second, and most important, banning all alcohol for the 18 - 21 age group in public means that they are denied the valuable lessons of learning how to drink responsibly. When I was in college in Washington, DC, the drinking age was 18 for beer or wine and 21 for distilled spirits. We frequented a number of bars near the university and learned quickly that there were rules about drinking in public - rules that were enforced quickly and ruthlessly by others who were older, wiser and usually much stronger. We came to understand that, to be able to enjoy ourselves in the bar or restaurant we had to abide by the social mores that governed public use of alcohol.
Teenagers today who drink don't have the benefit of that social structure. They have to drink privately, out of the public eye and in the company only of others of the same age. It's no wonder they binge drink and behave as they do. A drinking age of 21 infantalizes students - many of them are away from home for the first time or working full time for the first time - when they should be making the transition to adults.
It's worth noting, also that at 18, individuals can marry, adopt children, vote, serve in the military and purchase firearms from licensed dealers. The path to adulthood is difficult. We spend years teaching our children the things they will need to know to live as independent adults and responsible members of society. Alcohol is a part of the culture in almost all of America and it is widely available, regardless of age. We should teach our children, as they are on the verge of adulthood, to use it well and responsibly. It will be better in the long run.
[The image is of an 1879 poster for beer. The photo of myself that accompanies this blog was taken in Turkey as I sipped a mug of Efes beer - certainly an excellent beer. It's worth noting that Turkey - a country which is 99% muslim has an excellent beer, some decent wine and a wonderful distilled spirit called Raki which I can't find anywhere on the Eastern Shore!]