Tuesday, June 15, 2010

To Guam: Don't Raise the Drinking Age!

Guam (Guahan) is one of the few places in the United States that, along with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, still has a drinking age of 18, but all that may soon change.  Several politicians on the island want to raise the drinking age to 21, and the majority of adults (who are over 21) agree as well.  They claim it will make the island safer and reduce various social problems.  But we at Twenty-One Debunked feel that this move is a huge mistake.

Supporters of the proposed 21 law ignore several important facts while simultaneously touting junk science.  First, Guam (as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) has lower teen drinking and past-month "binge" drinking rates than the mainland, as well as lower than the Northern Mariana Islands, where the age limit is currently 21.  Ditto for self-reported driving after drinking in the past 30 days, according to the latest CDC's Youth Risk Behavior Survey data:

Location"Binge" Drinking
(Grade 12)
Drove after drinking
(Grades 9-12)
USA (overall)36.5%10.5%212007
Puerto Rico (USA)33.2%7.3%
Guam (USA)30.3%7.8%182007
Northern Mariana
Islands (USA)
US Virgin Islands14.4%6.1%182003
American Samoa26.1%7.8%212007

In addition, only about 6% of all drunk driving arrests in Guam are for drivers under 21.  That means that even if you could somehow magically stop everyone from drinking until 21, 94% of the island's DUI problem would still remain.

Secondly, Canada has seen the same (or faster) decline in traffic fatalities as the United States despite not raising the drinking age to 21, and their teen "binge" drinking rates in most provinces remain comparable to the geographically and demographically similar northern States as well.  In fact, most of the world allows 18 year olds to drink, without the sky falling in those countries. 

Thirdly, if Guam thinks that a drinking age of 18 is not working in some way, the first thing that should be done is to enforce it (and other existing laws, such as DUI) better, not to ban all 18-20 year olds from drinking and thereby increase the number of "underage" drinkers.  Also, jacking up the alcohol taxes (especially beer) would likely be beneficial as well, especially if the funds are used for education, treatment, and law enforcement.

Fourthly, it will merely force drinking by young adults underground, as well as create "forbidden fruit" and "feast or famine" mentalities about alcohol.  This will make it a lot more dangerous than it has to be.  The effects of a 21 drinking age are thus iatrogenic--the "cure" is worse than the "disease."  This is part of the reason that several college presidents want to lower the drinking age to 18 on the mainland, even as the pro-21 folks are calling for more and more ancillary laws and pharisaical enforcement to prop up the greatest alcohol policy failure since Prohibition.  And we all know how that worked out.

Finally, 18 year olds are legal adults, for better or worse.  If you're old enough to go to war, you're old enough to go to the bar.  And those that claim that the brains of 18-20 year olds are not developed enough to be given full adult rights need to think long and hard about the underdeveloped ethics of trying them as adults, executing them, letting them be police officers, letting them get married and raise their own children, among other things--all while denying them sovereignty over their own bodies.  Makes you wonder how capable the brains of people over 21 (especially over 25) are of thinking in new ways.

To Guam, take it from us folks on the mainland:  21 does NOT work!  On the contrary, those that claim that it does and advocate raising the drinking age are playing with fire.

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