Drinking age of 21 should be retained and enforced
Kapiolani Community College's chancellor has signed an initiative urging a discussion about whether to lower the legal drinking age.
NEARLY half of today's college students engage in binge drinking, even though many are too young to legally purchase or drink alcohol. Kapiolani Community College's chancellor has joined more than 100 other college executives asserting that the 21-year-old age barrier "is not working" and has created "a culture of dangerous, clandestine 'binge drinking,'" but the problem stems from weak enforcement of the law and college policies.
Chancellor Leon Richards said he doesn't necessarily favor lowering the drinking age but desires what a new campaign calls "an informed and dispassionate debate" on the issue. "Knowing that students will drink, then how are we to be responsible or educate them to be responsible?" he asks.
Such a debate, proposed by the Amethyst (ancient Greek for "not intoxicated") Initiative, would undoubtedly be academic and nothing more. A survey taken by Nationwide Insurance shows that 75 percent of Americans support stronger enforcement of existing drinking laws and increased penalties for adults who provide alcohol to those under age. Any state that reduces the legal age would face a 10 percent cut in highway funds.
Since enactment of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act created the penalty in 1984 and all states quickly complied, the number of 16- to 20-year-old drunken drivers killed has dropped from 1,600 a year to 800, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 17,000 lives have been saved because of the law.
"I know of no legitimate debate" about the legal age, says Henry Wechsler, co-author of a College Alcohol Study at the Harvard School of Public Health. Instead, researchers concluded that the problem is caused by inadequate alcohol control policies, weak enforcement of existing policies and easy access to alcohol through low prices, heavy marketing and special promotions.
A federal survey found that one in five underage youths engaged in binge drinking -- five drinks or more in a row for males, four for females -- in the previous month. A recent survey found the same is true of high school students in Hawaii.
Toben Nelson, co-author of the Harvard study, notes that binge drinking "varies widely from college to college. At some colleges almost no students binge drink, while at others nearly four in every five students do." While it is more prevalent at colleges with fraternities and sororities or where students live off-campus, it is less common at those that restrict use by banning alcohol on campus.
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