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Why the Drinking Age Should be Reduced to 16
A Broken Society
In countries across the world, underage drinking is an ever present danger to society.
- Binge drinking is dangerous for our health, but it is even more so for the youth of today; severe liver damage and impaired brain function are common consequences.
- The social effects of alcohol are also largely negative: ASBO's, assault, loitering, personal injury and public vandalisation.
But in a time of social trouble, perhaps oppression is not the answer: reducing the age limit on purchasing weak alcoholic beverages to 16 in pubs and bars is our likely saviour.
1. Age depicts neither mental nor physical maturity
If the law was only concerned with the health detriments of alcohol, then why not impose a height limit on alcohol? That way, it will actually deter the right people from drinking. Liver and brain size (& subsequent development) are correlated with height, whilst age is not (at least past puberty). A 75 year old is no more equipped to drink than a 25 year old.
That said, a 6'4" 16 year old male is much better equipped to drink alcohol than an 18 year old 5'0" female. Yet the 18 year old is still allowed to drink, and the 16 year old is forbidden.
On top of height and organ size, both metabolism and muscle mass play important roles in determining how well our bodies handle the alcohol we consume.
As you can see, there are many factors to consider when deciding if somebody should or should not be allowed to drink alcohol, and the age of a person is not something that necessitates these factors.
The decision of whether or not drinking is acceptable should depend upon the individual. The way forward, then, is to provide the general public with Information on the dangers of alcohol, and exactly what it is that makes you more or less susceptible to them. Once this is achieved, it should be up to the individual to decide whether or not he is allowed.
Respect is essential in a society. Respect for the state, and respect for the citizen. If citizens do not feel like they are respected by the Government, then the Government will not be respected by the citizens. This is a two pronged argument.
- The 16 & 17 demographic may well feel like that they can make their own choice about alcohol consumption, and feel it is disrespectful to have the choice taken away from them. The law spreads the message of "you are not yet trusted" rather than "it is not safe for you" as point 1. above explains.
- This is a stronger point: age restricting laws on alcohol are un-enforceable, the lack of respect generated by this fact breeds a society that neither fears nor likes the police.
16 & 17 year olds who think they can safely drink alcohol will do so irrespective of the law. The reason 16 is a better age is because it is the age when most teenagers are able to convince family & friends to buy them alcohol, why? Because they are deemed mature enough to drink responsibly. If they can choose who they have sex with and whether or not to smoke, why are they not allowed to choose what they drink? It is not illegal for them to drink bleach, after all.
This effect is reverberated in other aspects of life wherein if the illusion of power in a nation's authority is undermined - if people start believing that the police will never catch them when they commit crime - then all crimes nationwide will increase.
It is important to remember that the attitudes of the people to its government is crucial to so many things, crime rates not excluded.
As already has been stated, health is not the reason for the age limit on alcohol. Rather, it is the idea that youths are not mature enough to behave when under the influence. This can be seen in groups of youths banded together drinking on the street or in secretive places, causing public distress and achieving ASBO's.
But how many gangs of 18+ year olds do you see loitering on the street? Not many. You may have seen them, but they were mostly likely returning home from the pub.
18 year olds who want to drink would rather go to the warm and lively environment of the pub instead of the cold streets to drink. 17 year olds do too. Instead however, 16 & 17 year olds are exiled and forced to hit the streets or forest, back alley or other seedy location to drink with their friends. They have been socially excluded from maturity.
The result is that they find the younger age groups to populate parties and gatherings, resulting in a society where severely underaged drinking (10-13 year olds), who are not developed by any standard, are accepted to join in and drink as much as they can. Why not? After all, 16 & 17 year olds are just 'kids' in the eyes of the government. As such they will befriend and party with other (actual) 'kids'.
Underage drinking is a result of a lack of knowledge & culture, these issues need to be tackled with seriously, and not by imposing superficial laws.
The very young in our society see that their older brothers, sisters and friends - who are so much bigger and more mature than them - are not allowed to drink. This gives the impression that no matter how big you get, alcohol will be always be illegal, and it's part of growing up to reject the law and drink anyway.
Perhaps, if the legal age limit was at 15, many of them would reason that "it's only one more year" and start drinking earlier. But even a 15 year old may drink certain amounts of alcohol with no detrimental affects. It depends on the 15 year old.
Everybody should know the effects of alcohol on a young and undeveloped body, so those that actually have those bodies will know not to drink, and their friends and families will know not to let them. After all, when asking most teenagers if they think they've permanently damaged their bodies after a drinking session, they respond with a confident and to me soul destroying 'no'.
With widespread education on the subject, the idea of "when I'm 16, I'll be a lot bigger than I am now, maybe I should wait so I don't get liver failure" will be more prominent amongst all younger ages.
Alcohol related crimes are a result of disrespect to the state and a lack of education about alcohol; teenagers are not naturally malicious or hateful, it is always because of reasons that they act in the way that they do.
It is up to us to vote for reform. It is up to them to help it happen.
4. Bridging the Gap - Compromise
The transition from child to adult is neither an immediate nor an easy one. Where one day you are legally permitted to do things that you weren't before, it takes a lot of restraint to not go overboard. This is seen in examples of heavy binge drinking in the few teenagers who cared enough about the law to wait until turning 18.
Therefore, like many cultures in many countries already embrace, exposing teenagers to low strength, small quantities of alcohol so that they can learn what it is, and drink responsibly. This approach allows a slow transition into adulthood, that allows for a healthy respect for the consequences of alcohol; rather than a sprint into it.
Allowing teenagers to buy & drink low strength quantities of alcohol like beers and ales, will allow this bridging process to occur and reduce the severity of a binge drinking culture.
Worldwide Success Stories
This idea is not novel. Leading European economies Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg all boast a legal age of 16, allowing their youths to purchase beer and wine but not stronger liqueurs. As a result they see less of a binge drinking culture than the UK, adopting a healthy understanding of it's effects. Despite aggressive marketing tactics by alcohol companies to break through to these countries, "overall consumption of alcohol here has declined during the past years."
A new culture of partying and most importantly drinking spreading globally, has it's effects on the youngest among us. Although in a lot of countries, for example Germany, overall teenage drinking is decreasing, the amount that the teenagers who do drink is increasing dramatically.
"some now drink more than ever. German teenagers are number two consumers of alcohol in Europe, topped only by British youth" - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7093143.stm
This new culture spread by the media and lack of government control is the leading cause of binge drinking culture. The USA, who boast an age limit on alcohol of 21 also boasts some of the worst binge drinking (& gun crime etc.) in the world, with the worst cases of media induced binge culture too.
This is a similar scenario to what happened in the Czech Republic, where despite knowing the dangerous effects of smoking to the people, the Czech Government calculated that the tax from cigarette sales and the reduced needs for pensions would outweigh the great suffering that would come from promoting smoking across the country.
All in All
It is the responsibility of the Government to do what is best for it's people. Binge drinking culture needs to be eradicated - not catalysed by the media's relentless examples of how to enjoy excessive amounts of alcohol and 'have a good time'.
Reducing the age limit for drinking beers (5%-) in pubs will, like other developed countries have already shown, result in the encouragement of respect for dangerous substances, respect for the law & state, and discourage younger people from drinking.
Social problems cannot be dealt with by oppression, they must be dealt with at the source, a lack of knowledge and respect for the state.
Campaigns to show the dangers of alcohol for young people need to be ever-present, all children should know what even small quantities of alcohol can do to them, preventing permanent brain and liver impairment across the country.
"But teenagers are already allowed to drink with a meal"
This is of course true for the UK, and the issue with that is that many teenagers would rather not have to purchase and wait for a meal every time they wish to go to the pub with their friends.
Evidence regarding America's drinking problems - See Here