Wednesday, November 30, 2011

So Where Do Very Underage Drinkers Get Their Booze?

All 50 states and DC have a legal drinking age of 21 thanks to federal coercion, but apparently there are some parts of the country where the average age of onset of drinking is as low as 12.  Think about that for a moment--that's nine years below the legal age, and that's the average in some communities!

So with all of this very underage drinking going on, with numerous kids starting to drink nearly a decade before they are legal, where are they getting all that booze?  The answers can be found in a survey of kids in one such community in South Dakota.  And 37% of the kids surveyed said that friends over age 21 would buy it for them, while 8% got strangers to buy for them and 4% had other means.  But wait--wasn't raising the drinking age to 21 supposed to stop kids under 18 from getting their older friends to buy for them?  Guess not.

Of course, the average age of onset in the USA as a whole has generally been in the 16-17 range since 1965 despite fluctuations in the legal drinking age.  And the average age at first drink actually dropped from 16.6 in 1980 to 16.2 in 2002.  Even 8th graders (13 year olds!) can apparently their hands on alcohol more easily than even cigarettes, which have an age limit 18 in 46 states (and often poorly enforced).  There seems to be little to no correlation between the legal drinking age and the average age of onset of drinking.  But if not that, what does explain why some communities drink earlier (and/or more so) than others?  Like the above-referenced article points out, a combination of socioeconomic disadvantage, low alcohol prices, and the drinking patterns of their parents and grandparents seems to be the main culprit.  And there is nothing at all surprising about that.

A community group has made recommendations to address the problem.  Such recommendations include restricting alcohol advertising in the area, raising alcohol taxes, working with retailers on pricing and the placement of alcohol in stores, and increasing compliance checks on retailers by law enforcement.  We at Twenty-One Debunked believe that these commonsense measures are a good idea overall, and would support them even more if the drinking age was lowered to 18 as well.  Remember that the success story of Puerto Rico did not require a drinking age of 21 to succeed.  And nor did America's experience with tobacco use reduction over the past few decades require an increase in the smoking age to 21.

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