No bad side-effects?

| Comments (3) | Misc
In Slate, Darshak Sanghavi argues against lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18. Sanghavi makes a reasonably convincing argument that raising the drinking age has suppressed teen drinking. That's not that surprising, seeing as it's a lot harder for a 17-year-old to impersonate a 21-year-old than an 18-year-old. And then he closes with:
Of course, in the end a lot of teens will binge-drink, no matter what the law says. But that's not an argument against making the legal age 21 years old to buy and consume it. (After all, a third of high-schoolers have smoked marijuana, and few people want to legalize it for them.) Rather, the current law is best viewed as a palliative medical treatment for an incurable condition. Chemotherapy can't cure terminal cancer, but it can make patients hurt a little less and perhaps survive a little longer. Similarly, the current drinking age undeniably reduces teen binge-drinking and death a little bit, without any bad side-effects. When there's no complete cure, though, desperate people are vulnerable to the dubious marketing hype of snake-oil peddlers--which is all the Amethyst Initiative is offering up now.

I don't really have a strong opinion on the right drinking age—though I seem to remember that when I was 16 I thought 18 sounded pretty good, and I wouldn't want to sign an affidavit that I never drank before I was 21. That said, it's not true that there are no "bad side-effects", unless, that is, you ignore the hedonic benefits to the teens in question from having a few drinks. But if course once you ignore hedonic benefits, why not jack the drinking age to 31 or 41 instead of 21?

3 Comments

While we're at it why don't we increase the voting age to 50? It'll stop all those silly 18 year-olds from voting wrong!

Seriously though, I hadn't taken a drink until I was 20 because I'm no fun. I blame/thank my parents for that, but that's fine because they convinced (deceived in some cases) me of the risks. My experience showed me that it's more up to the parents than any law to prevent "underage" drinking. When I have them, my kids will learn that beer is delicious but, like practically anything else, dangerous in excess.

"reduces teen binge-drinking and death a little bit" -- I assume this is referring to drunk driving? Then why not just raise the minimum driving age, and lower the minimum drinking age?

Reducing the drinking age to 18 would also reduce the cost of enforcing the age restriction -- fewer people would be drinking and distributing alcohol illegally, so a reduced burden on police and courts.

They should do international comparisons. In Canada the drinking age is 19 in most of the country, and 18 in Quebec, Alberta, and Manitoba. Do Canadian teens drink a lot more than American teens?

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