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Lower drinking age is safer for students

Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013

Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013 17:01

As college students kick off the new semester with social gatherings, the nation is questioning how effective drinking laws are.  What has now become a permanent fixture in college life has college officials arguing that the current laws have failed.  We live in a country where at 18-years-old the law gives us the right to vote, get married, go to war and own property. However, we cannot have a glass of champagne at our wedding.

Drinking has been a controversial issue in the United States since the first prohibition on a state level in the 1850s, and was no more popular when it was introduced on a national level in the 1920s.

Both forms of prohibition failed when lawmakers realized it was feasibly impossible to prevent people from manufacturing, transporting and consuming alcohol.  Trying to enforce this law created many social issues and fostered a major increase in organized crime.  
So if prohibition has failed twice with factual evidence regarding it as impossible to enforce, how was the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 passed?  
Congress passed this law to require states to legislate 21 to be the minimum drinking age for purchasing and publicly possessing alcohol.  Under the Federal Aid Highway Act, states with a minimum drinking age lower than 21 would be subject to a 10 percent decrease in the annual federal highway apportionment. Eventually all states agreed to this law to preserve their annual apportionment. In 29 states they allow underage consumption of alcohol if on private property with parental consent. Twenty-five states allow for underage consumption for religious purposes, and 16 for medical purposes. Eleven allow for underage consumption and restraints in bars with parental consent and seven for educational reasons.  
Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri and New Hampshire are a few states that have no exceptions. These laws directly affect college students. College students who are constantly around alcohol could lose their scholarship for possessing or consuming alcohol. This could alter their future forever for simply participating in social gatherings on a college campus.

For this reason presidents from multiple colleges – including the leaders of Dartmouth, Duke and Virginia Tech – argue the legal drinking age of 21 is not working. Eighty-seven percent of high school seniors have consumed alcohol. Once a person reaches college they no longer need their older friends to buy them alcohol, it’s everywhere. Students under 21 reported that 87 percent of them have used alcohol within the last year, and 67 percent of college freshmen reportedly used alcohol.

Ruth Engs is the leading authority on drinking patterns and problems of college students. She is professor of applied health sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington. She proposes the drinking age be lowered to 18 to allow drinkers to learn how to responsibly drink in restaurants, bars, and at home with their parents. She says drinkers under the age of 21 should be learning in controlled environments instead of being forced underground in an unsafe environment. She also believes underage binge drinking is directly related to the fact that drinking underage is illegal.

The top educators and some of the most prominent institutions in the country are battling this age specific prohibition. Age specific prohibition is completely unregulated, and a failed system when more than half of high school and college students are drinking underage. The law says we are able to make a lifelong commitment to someone but that we are not responsible enough to have a glass of champagne, that we can die for our country and cut our life short but we are not responsible enough to have a beer.

Albert Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.  Prohibition did not work at its inception, and prohibition of a specific age group does not work now.


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