Monday, December 2, 2013

Should Bars Set Their Own Drinking Ages?

In response to the latest news about a NYC bar setting a minimum age of 25 for patrons, we at Twenty-One Debunked realize that we haven't been all that clear about whether bars should be allowed to discriminate based on age.  And it's perfectly legal too, believe it or not.  We have mixed feelings about the issue overall, and if the founder of Twenty-One Debunked ever owned a bar, he would not set the age limit any higher than the legal drinking age (whatever it may be at the time).  In principle, it is ageist to do so, and it is far better to crack down on all troublemakers regardless of age and put better safeguards in place for everyone.

However, there are some fairly strong arguments in favor of allowing bars to set a higher age, particularly if the legal drinking age is lowered to 18.  First, it is worth noting in that some countries with a drinking age of 18, such as Sweden, several bars (and especially nightclubs) set an age limit of 20, 23, or even 30 in some cases.  Puerto Rico, with a drinking age of 18, has bars that are 21 to enter as well.  Also, there is anecdotal evidence that when many states lowered the drinking age to 18 in the 1970s, at least some bars lost business (and even went out of business) due to the supposedly rowdy 18-20 year olds flooding the bars and scaring off the older patrons.  The irony of the Brooklyn bar was that the age was raised to 25 because the 21-24 year olds were apparently the ones causing too much trouble, so it seems that raising the legal drinking age to 21 just shifted the problems to a slightly older age group.  Finally, there's the free market argument that private businesses should be allowed to do as they please, within reason of course.  While none of these arguments by themselves are strong enough, when put together they make a rather compelling case in favor of allowing bars to remain free to choose their own minimum ages.  And most importantly, if bars are allowed such freedom, they would be much more likely to get on board with our movement to lower the drinking age since they would not feel "forced" to accomodate "rowdy teenagers" if they don't want to.  So there's a strong argument from practicality as well.

Thus, while Twenty-One Debunked believes that the legal drinking age should be lowered to 18, we feel that individual bars should be allowed to choose a higher minimum age if they wish.  And if they did, it would be more likely to be 21 rather than 25, since 21-24 year olds would likely be a lot mellower if they grew up under a drinking age of 18 than if they grew up under the status quo.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Drink Nothing Day!

You have probably heard of Buy Nothing Day. Celebrated on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the biggest shopping day of the year, this self-explanatory holiday is meant to be a protest against consumerism. But perhaps you didn't know that the biggest drinking day of the year is the day before Thanksgiving. That's right, it's not New Year's Eve, but Thanksgiving Eve, also known as "Blackout Wednesday."

Thus, three years ago we at Twenty-One Debunked have decided to create our own protest holiday, Drink Nothing Day. It is designed as a way for people 21 and over to show solidarity with those under 21 by not drinking any alcohol that day. To observe this holiday, which can only logically be done by folks over 21, one must not drink any form of alcohol at all during the entire 24 hours of that date, as well as the following day until sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner (or until the sun goes down, whichever occurs earlier). Then, one may drink, but one must give thanks that prohibition no longer applies to him or her. Other ways to observe include wearing two black armbands: one to symbolize those soldiers who died before being able to drink legally in the very country they served, and another to symbolize those under 21 who were killed by a drunk driver over 21.

We will continue to observe this holiday until the drinking age is lowered to 18 in all 50 states.  And remember, whether you choose to observe it or not, never drink and drive.  If you plan to drink, don't drive, and if you plan to drive, don't drink.  It's just not worth the risk.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

NYC Raises Tobacco Purchase Age to 21

Much to our chagrin, Mayor Bloomberg has finally signed the bill that would raise the tobacco purchase age to 21 in New York City.  He was originally against such a move in 2006, but the City Council finally convinced him, which was really not that difficult to do considering his history as a jerk and a nanny-stater.

The bill, which bans the sale of tobacco products and e-cigarettes (but not paraphernalia) to anyone under 21, takes effect in 180 days from today, which will be on May 19, 2014.  NYC Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio will be in power then, and it remains to be seen how he will handle such a law.  We hope he will listen to reason and repeal it before it goes into effect.

As we have previously noted unequivocally while the issue was first being discussed, Twenty-One Debunked does NOT support raising the age limit for cigarettes to 21.  The one bright spot to the new law is that, unlike with alcohol, it does not apply to possession or use of tobacco (currently no age limit), or to the sale of paraphernalia (which will remain 18).  However, that does not make it any less ageist, and it will only expand the city's already extensive black market for untaxed/out-of-state/stolen/counterfeit cigarettes.  What allegedly works in the small town of Needham, MA (which is debatable) would be unlikely to work in a place like NYC.  While another bill was passed today to increase penalties for black-market sellers, it does not get to the root of the problem:  extremely high cigarette taxes compared to surrounding areas.  And the 21 age limit only pours gasoline on the fire.  I would bet that cigarette retailers in Westchester County (where the age is 18) and Long Island and New Jersey (where it's 19) would probably be the greatest beneficiaries of the new law, in addition to the mobsters and terrorists that profit from the black market in the city.

As a result, Twenty-One Debunked is calling for an all-ages boycott of all tobacco products in the five boroughs of NYC, beginning on May 19, 2014 when the law takes effect (and lasting until repeal).  If you live in the city and smoke, be sure to (legally) buy your smokes elsewhere--or better yet, quit.  Tourists should also avoid buying tobacco while visiting.  The more die-hard boycotters might even want to include alcohol on the do-not-buy list, for obvious reasons.  Watch the tax revenue shrink precipitously.

For this and many other reasons, we hereby say "good riddance" to lame-duck Nanny Bloomberg when he finally steps down on New Year's Eve.  Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Friday, November 15, 2013

To Puerto Rico: Don't Raise the Drinking Age!

There has been a recent proposal in Puerto Rico to raise the legal drinking age from 18 to 21.  If it passes, it would leave only the Virgin Islands as the last remaining holdout where the drinking age is 18, since Guam raised it to 21 in 2010 (much to our chagrin).  Aside from the tired old canards about "safety" and "protecting young people" (from themselves), there is also that pesky 10% highway funding penalty that Puerto Rico has had to deal with every year since 1988, and their flagging economy can clearly use a boost.  And this was not the first time such a hike in the drinking age was proposed:  in the 1990s, there were two failed attempts to raise the drinking age to 21, which most of the people did not support.

While we believe that such a law is unlikely to pass, Twenty-One Debunked would still like to urge the island to avoid making the same mistakes as the mainland.  That is, Puerto Rico should keep the drinking age at 18, while strengthening and enforcing it better.  To do so, they should:
  • Increase retailer compliance checks to help keep booze out of the hands of people under 18.
  • Increase the penalties for selling or furnishing alcohol to people under 18.
  • Increase alcohol education programs in schools and elsewhere.
  • Bring back the successful community coalitions formed in the 1990s to fight underage drinking and other alcohol problems.
  • Crack down harder on drunk driving, drunk violence, and drunk and disorderly conduct among all ages.
  • To reduce traffic deaths and other alcohol-related problems, and raise much-needed revenue at the same time, raise the alcohol taxes (especially beer) and the gas tax.
  • Above all, never back down.
Puerto Rico has already seen great success in reducing underage drinking and traffic deaths since the 1980s, and they did so without raising the drinking age one iota.  They should continue to build on the successes of the past in order to have a better future.  And it is completely unnecessary to violate anyone's civil rights to do so.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Extreme Binge Drinking Revisited

The latest news on extreme binge drinking is in.  Apparently, a new study of Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey data from 2005-2011 found that about one in ten high school seniors have engaged in "extreme" drinking, defined as 10 or more drinks in the same occasion at least once in the past two weeks.  And about one in twenty have consumed 15+ drinks (!) in the same timeframe.  Rates were highest in the Midwest and in rural areas (i.e. so-called "blue-collar America"), and more common among males than females.  We have already noted similar findings four years ago.

While clearly only a small minority in engaging in such truly dangerous drinking, it is not a trivial fraction either, and is probably an underestimate.  And, most relevant to the drinking age debate, these numbers have not changed significantly since MTF began following them in 2005, despite ever-intensifying enforcement of the 21 drinking age and its ancillary laws.  So recent declines in prevalence of 5+ drinks in a row appear to be somewhat misleading, especially since underage drinkers tend to undercount their drinks.  Lying (or exaggerating or minimizing) is also fairly common in teen drug and alcohol surveys.

For what it's worth, according to the same surveys about 25% of seniors and 18% of sophomores admit to having had 5+ in a row in the past two weeks, and these numbers are leveling off after a decade-and-a-half-long decline.  It seems that fewer teens are drinking, but the more they do when they do.  That may explain why in emergency rooms in several cities across the country, admissions related to teen binge drinking increased in recent years in spite of surveys showing that teen drinking and "binge" drinking are both at record lows.

Tracking this highly dangerous behavior is long overdue.  We already know that among college freshmen, 20% of males and 8% of females have done extreme drinking (10+ males, 8+ females) in the past two weeks.  But that was a one-semester snapshot in the fall of 2003, with no other years for comparison.  The rate of "binge" drinking (using the 5/4 definition) in the past two weeks was 41% for males and 34% for females, which does jibe well with known statistics (roughly 40%) that use that definition.  But one must wonder if there is even any relationship at all between the rates of drinking, "binge" drinking, and "extreme" drinking.  And it is an important distinction to draw, as studies show that a higher cutoff (e.g. 7/6 or 8/6) has better predictive value for the more serious alcohol-related problems than the rather unscientific 5/4 definition.

Indeed, from 1993 to 2005, the percentage of college students who "binge" drank (5/4 definition) in the past two weeks has not changed a whole lot, but the percentage who do so three more times in the past two weeks ("frequent binging") has gone up significantly.  And since the aforementioned study found that extreme drinking was strongly correlated with frequent "binging," the former most likely rose as well.  Further evidence comes from another study that found that the number of alcohol poisoning deaths (a good indicator of truly dangerous drinking) among college students nearly tripled from 1998 to 2005. 

Bottom line:  when you criminalize normative drinking, you inevitably normalize truly dangerous drinking.  We saw the same thing during Prohibition.  And we all pay a heavy price for it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

That Really Explains A Lot

An Alternet article titled "The Most Depressing Discovery About the Brain, Ever", along with the related Grist article, "Science Confirms:  Politics Wrecks Your Ability to Do Math", sheds a great deal of light on why it is so hard to get people to accept the truth when it conflicts with their political views.  A recent study found that our political passions can easily (and unfortunately) undermine our most basic reasoning skills.  That is, no matter how good one is at math, one may get the answer to a math problem wrong if the right answer contradicts their political beliefs.  Worse, when people are misinformed, giving them facts to correct such errors only makes them cling to their erroneous beliefs even more.  And this is true no matter how smart someone is--in fact political passion appeared to trump reason even more so for those who were better at math!  A truly depressing discovery indeed.

All this explains why our movement in particular has had such a hard time convincing the opposition about the error of their ways.  For an issue as fraught and passionate as the drinking age, it seems that for many of our opponents, no amount of evidence is enough to convince them that their unscientific and pseudo-scientific positions really don't stand up to scrutiny.   A particular debate that our group's leader had with an otherwise intelligent and well-educated member of the pro-21 crowd (with a PhD no less!) comes to mind.  The opponent's "evidence" and faulty logic were refuted over and over again by citing the best studies on the matter, and yet he still refused to budge one bit, finding every conceivable reason to believe that our data were suspect.  This literally went on for weeks.  But eventually he just got tired of arguing and walked away with his proverbial tail between his legs, after which we proudly declared victory.

In other words, we really do have our work cut out for us, and more so than we ever thought.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Rotten Reporting Strikes Again

A new Canadian study using data from 1997-2007 finds that there is a significant jump in hospital admissions for alcohol poisoning, suicide, and unintentional injuries during the first year that young Canadians reach the legal drinking age (18 or 19 depending on the province).  The way the study has been reported in the media implied that raising the drinking age would lead to a reduction in such morbidity.   Thus, if the three provinces with a drinking age of 18 were to raise it to 19, there would supposedly be fewer alcohol-related injuries overall in Canada.

However, this faulty logic ignores the fact that the same spike in hospitalizations still occurred in provinces where the drinking age is 19, just delayed by one year.  The study does not provide any evidence of a net reduction in injuries from a higher age limit, just a delay.  Apparently, the first year that one becomes legal to drink is the riskiest year regardless of the drinking age, which Twenty-One Debunked has noted from previous American studies such as Asch and Levy (1987 and 1990), Males (1986), and Dirscherl (2011).  Thus, raising the legal drinking age is merely a shell game that is unlikely to actually solve anything. 

Rather than merely postpone the inevitable, it would be far better if all Canadian provinces (and the USA) were to lower the drinking age to 18, increase alcohol education and treatment, and crack down harder on DUI and drunk violence among all ages.  For the USA, whose alcohol taxes are well below those found in Canada and other nations, it would likely be beneficial to raise such taxes as well.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Senator Frank Lautenberg Has Passed Away

New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg passed away on June 3 at the age of 89.  The late senator, who has been in office for five terms, was the man who wrote the National Minimum Drinking Age Act that coerced states to raise the drinking age to 21 nearly three decades ago.  However, we should also remember all the good he has done for nearly every progressive cause in this country since then, and it was unfortunate that he was on the wrong side of history as far as the drinking age is concerned.   A longtime liberal icon and a decent man overall, may he rest in peace.

The idea of raising the drinking age to 21 nationwide actually originated with MADD, especially its founder Candy Lightner.  New Jersey's so-called "blood border" with New York would have better been solved (and prevented entirely) if New Jersey simply kept its drinking age at 18 rather than raise it to 21 and have the feds coerce New York to raise it as well.   And the Canadian experience shows that drunk driving deaths still would have declined as fast if not faster.  The idea that the 21 drinking age saved 25,000 lives (or any lives for that matter in the long run) has been debunked as a statistical mirage by Miron and Tetelbaum (2009).  Had it not been for MADD and the moral panic over "teen drinking" at the time, Lautenberg probably would have opted for the smarter choice and rejected an unenforceably high drinking age of 21.  As for Lightner, who still supports the 21 drinking age so much that she went on national TV in 2008 and insulted our men and women in uniform just to make a point, may her name and memory be forever blotted out.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What Should the BAC Limit Be?

Recently there has been a push to lower the BAC limit for DUI to 0.05 from its current 0.08.  The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) estimates that it would save 1000 lives per year.  This idea is not without controversy, and Twenty-One Debunked is clearly no stranger to controversy.  So is it a wise idea?

First, let's examine the evidence.  It is clear that most drivers are significantly impaired at a BAC of 0.05-0.08, with at least a fourfold increase in fatal crash risk compared to zero BAC, even though this impairment can be rather subtle.  For young male drivers, this relative risk increases to tenfold.  Most civilized countries (and the state of New York) recognize this fact and have thus set their BAC limits at 0.05, and some have set it even lower still.  And doing so has been shown to save lives, even in car-cultures like Australia who saw more progress in reducing alcohol-related traffic deaths than the USA or Canada.  To reach a BAC of 0.05, it would take about three drinks for a 180-pound man or about two drinks for a 120-pound woman within an hour or two.  So contrary to popular opinion, a 0.05 limit would NOT criminalize having a drink with dinner at a restaurant and subsequently driving home.  Thus, on balance, the benefits of lowering the limit outweigh the costs, and it is most likely a good idea overall.

That being said, Twenty-One Debunked does NOT support making it a criminal offense to drive with a BAC of 0.05-0.08.  Rather, we favor the approach taken by the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, as well as some Australian states.  In these jurisdictions, driving with a BAC of 0.05-0.08 is illegal but is only a traffic infraction, with administrative rather than criminal penalties.  Only above 0.08 would a driver face criminal penalties.  Administrative penalties include immediate short-term license suspension, short-term vehicle impoundment, and fairly modest fines for those who fail or refuse a breathalyzer.  Our proposal already includes these ideas, along with tougher enforcement and graduated penalties based on BAC and number of offenses.  We believe that if all or even some of the ideas in our proposal were implemented, alcohol-related traffic deaths and other problems would decrease dramatically in a fairly short time.

Finally, we should note that MADD founder (and later turncoat) Candy Lightner is against lowering the BAC limit to 0.05, about as strongly as she supports keeping the drinking age 21.  Remember that in 2008 she even insulted our men and women in uniform on national TV just to make a point about why the drinking age should be 21 in her view.  That is truly the height of hubris and hypocrisy, and you don't get much more pharisaical than that.   And ironically even MADD itself, who Lightner has apparently made peace with, isn't too keen on the 0.05 limit either. 

MADD and their ilk have historically claimed that if a particular policy saves even one life, it's worth it.  Funny how they would oppose (or at least not push for) a policy that would likely save at least as many lives as their own (bogus) estimate of lives saved by the 21 drinking age.  That really speaks volumes about what they really are--an anti-youth hate group that really has no place in a civilized society but on the trash heap of history.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Lowering NZ Drinking Age to 18 Not a Disaster After All

According to a new study, it turns out that New Zealand's lowering of the drinking age from 20 to 18 in 1999 had essentially no impact on the drinking behaviors of young people, contrary to what some people have claimed.  By studying a combination of survey data, hospital admissions, and road crashes, researchers found little to no change for 15-19 year olds relative to 22-23 year olds between 1996 and 2007.  Although there was a short-term spike in alcohol-related hospital admissions (involving a small number of individuals) immediately after the law change, the overall impact of the law change was found to be minimal.  Food for thought.

This was not the only study that found little to no effect of the drinking age change.  Last year, when NZ was debating whether or not to raise the drinking age (which they ended up keeping at 18), another study came to a similar conclusion about the drinking behaviors of young people.  And contrary to what the fearmongers have been claiming, teen drinking has actually declined in recent years.  So it looks like the wowsers were wrong, at least about the drinking age.  But don't expect MADD and their ilk to agree with these studies.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

To NYC: Don't Raise the Smoking Age

You are probably wondering and scratching your head as to why Twenty-One Debunked, an organization founded for the purpose of lowering the drinking age to 18, would care even one iota about tobacco policy and the rights of smokers.  After all, we have repeatedly pointed out the hypocrisy of banning 18-20 year old legal adults from drinking alcohol while simultaneously allowing them to (among other things) consume a far more toxic substance.  However, the answer is contained in the question itself--for many of the same reasons that the drinking age should lowered to 18, so should the smoking age remain 18.

New York City is currently proposing to raise the age limit for purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21, and Mayor Bloomberg is now in favor of such a change despite originally being against it.  If it passes, NYC would join two other towns (in Massachusetts) and the nation of Sri Lanka as the few places in the entire world where no one under 21 is allowed to buy cigarettes.  Proponents claim that it would dramatically reduce smoking rates among young people:  one study estimates that raising the age limit to 21 would reduce smoking among 18-20 year olds by 55% and among 14-17 year olds by nearly two-thirds within seven years, and that in turn would lead to lower rates of adult smoking over the long run, thereby saving countless lives and improving public health. 

However, there are good reasons to doubt the results of the study.  First of all, the study is purely theoretical without any empirical data on places that have actually raised the age limit to 21 in real life.  Secondly, one need look no further than the drinking age to see that such impressive results would be highly unlikely.  For example, Miron and Tetelbaum (2009) found that, after adjustment for confounders, raising the drinking age from 18 to 21 merely reduced self-reported past-month drinking among high school seniors by five percentage points and self-reported "binge" drinking by three percentage points.  Using 1980 as a base year, when the rates of these behaviors were 70% and 40%, respectively, these numbers represent declines of roughly 7%, far less than what the above study claims would happen for smoking and small enough to be mostly or even entirely due to reporting bias.  And the NSDUH found that the average age of onset of drinking actually dropped from 16.6 to 16.2 between 1980 and 2002.  If that's "success," we'd hate to see what failure looks like.

Thus, it is far from obvious that raising the age limit for tobacco would yield any substantive public health benefits.  The most likely result would be the creation of even more technical criminals, and the expansion of the city's existing black market for untaxed/low-tax/counterfeit/stolen cigarettes and fake IDs, with the primary beneficiaries being organized crime syndicates and even terrorists.  Further erosion of respect for the law would occur as well, along with possible riots.  And why the sudden desire to raise the age limit now?  Cigarette use among young people is now at a record low in both NYC and the rest of the nation, and the massive decline in youth smoking since the 1970s occurred without raising the smoking age.  If NYC is so gung-ho about further reducing smoking among the mere 8.5% of its high school students who are still foolish enough to smoke, perhaps they should better enforce existing laws before they even think of passing new ones.

More fundamentally, raising the smoking age to 21 would be (like the 21 drinking age) a serious violation of the civil rights of 18-20 year olds, who are legal adults in virtually all other aspects of life.  It is also yet another blow to everyone's freedom from the hectoring "public health" fascism of the creeping nanny state that Mayor Bloomberg exemplifies.  Both Twenty-One Debunked and the True Spirit of America Party believe that, while smoking is a stupid and filthy habit that we strongly discourage, the fact remains that 18-20 year olds are adults and if they want to choose pleasure over longevity that should be their choice, not the government's.  We believe that, in a free society, all adults should be free to do as they please as long as they do not harm or endanger nonconsenting others more than the minimum, Darwin Awards notwithstanding.  And before anyone brings out the tired, old canard about "social costs", remember the studies show that smokers actually save society money (on balance) by dying earlier than nonsmokers, and thus they more than pay their way as far as taxes go, even in many of the low-tax states.  (Unfortunately, one cannot say the same for drinkers, but that can be solved by simply raising the tax on alcoholic beverages.)  Thus, Twenty-One Debunked simply cannot tolerate raising the smoking age to any age higher than the age of majority, even if it did improve public health.

The answer is clear.  Old enough to fight and vote = old enough to drink and smoke.  'Nuff said.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Wasted in Wisconsin

It seems that the state that the irreverent 1999 comedy film Dogma referred to as being "worse than hell" has a pretty bad drinking problem, according to a new report.  Wisconsin is apparently significantly worse than the national average in terms of "binge" drinking (#1 in the nation), heavy drinking, drunk driving, and overall alcohol-related costs to society.  The intensity of binge drinking is also the highest in the nation, averaging a whopping 9 drinks (!) per session.  And it should come as no surprise when we consider the things that set Wisconsin apart from most other states.

Wisconsin has the most lenient DUI laws in the nation (e.g. first offense is only a traffic infraction), one of the lowest beer taxes in the nation (2 cents/gallon), several major breweries, long and cold winters, and one of the most pervasive and ingrained drinking cultures in the nation.  Partying hard is almost like a religion in the Badger State, and not just among young people.  And this has been true for most (if not all) of the state's history.

While we do not dispute that the state has a serious problem with excessive drinking, and agree with some of their recommendations, we at Twenty-One Debunked do take exception to the report authors' strident pro-21 stance.  When Wisconsin raised the drinking age to 21 in the 1980s, it did not seem to solve anything, mainly because it failed to change the underlying drinking culture significantly.   If anything, the 21 drinking age likely makes things worse in the long run.  It would make far more sense to lower the drinking age back to 18, while also improving alcohol education, raising the beer tax, and toughening laws against drunk driving.  Only then would it be possible to create a more responsible drinking culture than the one they have now.  Of course, changing the culture will not be particularly easy, but it nonetheless can and should be done.  And Wisconsin would probably be the best place to start changing America's overall drinking culture.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Things Underage Drinkers Didn't Do (Part Six)

It's been a while since we posted a "Things Underage Drinkers Didn't Do" post, and after one of the biggest drinking days of the year, we felt that it was time to post a new one.

In the past few weeks or so:

An underage drinker did NOT kill his 9 year old nephew in a drunk driving crash.

An underage drinker did NOT rear-end a police car while driving drunk.

An underage drinker did NOT drunkenly crash into a gas pump, causing it to burst into flames and injuring her passenger.

An underage drinker did NOT drunkenly crash his semi-truck into another person's car (and injuring her) after driving the wrong way.

An underage drinker did NOT injure a police officer and two children in a drunk driving crash.

An underage drinker did NOT run over and pin a pedestrian after drunkenly crashing into several cars and a stop sign--all in the same night.

An underage drinker did NOT drunkenly crash into both a restaurant's fence AND a the front porch of a nearby house in the same night.

An underage drinker did NOT wrap her car around a telephone pole with a BAC of 0.223, breaking the pole in half, and then try to flee the scene--and this was her second DUI offense.  (Some people never learn)

An underage drinker did NOT drunkenly crash into two cars and a group of pedestrians while speeding, injuring five people and putting one in critical condition.

An underage drinker did not throw such a drunken fit in public that they needed 10-12 cop cars to come and arrest her for disorderly conduct.  All because the bartender wouldn't serve her anymore.

The cop that killed two people while speeding and driving with a BAC of double the legal limit was clearly over 21, since they generally don't allow anyone under 21 to become police officers.

An underage drinker did NOT have the chutzpah to sue his friend and Applebees for serving him the alcohol he drank on the night he drunkenly crashed into and killed two teenage girls.  (Another repeat offender, by the way)

And that, my friends, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Baby Boomers are Not the Best Model for Today's Youth

Essentially all American studies of the effects of raising or lowering the legal drinking age were based on a single generation:  the Baby Boomers.  And the latest junk science study is no exception.  Remember, many states lowered their drinking ages in the early 1970s and raised them to 21 in the 1980s, so that was the generation most affected by such changes.  But there is a fundamental question that is rarely asked, especially by the pro-21 crowd:  Could the Baby Boomers (i.e. those born from 1946 to 1964) have been an exceptional generation that was actually affected perversely by the changes in the drinking age?  That is, could the effects that some studies found actually be the opposite of what would have happened for other generations?

We at Twenty-One Debunked believe that the answer is yes, that they are a unique generation that was likely affected differently (if at all) by the changes in the drinking age, and that studies that only look at them are outdated and obsolete for determining the supposed effects of lowering the drinking age in 2013.   There are several reasons for this:

  • Baby Boomers came of age at a time when America's drinking culture was very different, a fact that was true regardless of the drinking age.
  • Baby Boomers (and early Gen-X) were more affected by lead poisoning that any other generation that is still alive today, thanks to the leaded gasoline (and paint) that was used when they were children.  Lead is a neurotoxin that causes serious and often permanent damage to the developing brain, resulting in reduced intelligence, increased impulsivity, and arrested development.  And changes in crime statistics and standardized test scores verify this fact.
  • Baby Boomers were exposed to numerous other developmental toxins as well:  mercury, PCBs, DDT, dioxins, fluoride, and many others.   And they did lots of drugs as well.
  • Baby Boomers, for whatever reason, were apparently raised to be rather narcissistic and self-important as a rule.
  • Baby Boomers, regardless of the drinking age in their home states when they were growing up, succeeded in becoming the drunkest and druggiest generation in American history (at least since the Founding Fathers), yet they have the audacity and hubris to overwhelmingly support the 21 drinking age and other anti-youth laws.
  • And most ironically of all, the Baby Boomers also became the wealthiest generation in American history despite screwing up the economy for everyone else (to say nothing about what is happening to our planet).
That is not to say that all Baby Boomers are reflected in these facts, since a rather large number of them defied these trends.  But enough of them were so as to call into question the wisdom of using that generation as a model for the effects of policy changes on today's youth.  And we certainly should not continue punishing today's youth for the sins of their Boomer parents.  Perhaps some generations can indeed handle freedom better than others--and the best statistics are indeed more on the side of today's generation of young people.

Let America be America again, and lower the drinking age to 18.  If you're old enough to go to war, you're old enough to go to the bar.  'Nuff said.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Take the 40-Day Challenge

Now that Lent has officially begun, we at Twenty-One Debunked hereby challenge anyone over 21 to give up something that is not usually given up for Lent--alcohol.  Can you go 40 days and 40 nights* in a row without any drinking at all?

Those who are not quite as stout of heart may opt for a somewhat lesser challenge:  at least not buying any alcohol at all during the 40 days of Lent, as well as not entering any bars for any reason except to order food and/or to be a designated driver.  And go as many days in a row as possible without drinking any alcohol, even if someone else buys it.

Just so everyone knows, Twenty-One Debunked is not affiliated with any religion; we came up with this Lenten challenge for purely secular reasons (similar to Febfast in Australia), with an important twist.  While the original purpose of Catholic Lent was for the non-poor to have a taste of what the poor were experiencing, our 40-Day Challenge gives people over 21 a chance to remember what it was like before they turned 21, at least in terms of buying alcohol and entering bars.  We feel that drinking members of the pro-21 crowd would benefit the most from this exercise in self-denial.  But just about any drinker can benefit in one way or another from the cleansing of a good detox period.

*We checked our calendars and found that this year there are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.  Thus, one can still complete the challenge successfully if 40 of those days are spent sans alcohol, as long as it is 40 days in a row with no interruptions.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

If It Smells Like Junk Science, It Probably Is

The news of the latest study about the 21 drinking age now appears to be going viral.   According to this study, which is now available (only to subscribers) online ahead of print, folks who were young adults in states that allowed them to drink legally before age 21 at that time were statistically more likely to become more frequent "binge" drinkers later in life compared to those who were not allowed to drink legally until age 21.  The research, which used data from surveys in 1992 and 2002 taken by those who were born between 1949 and 1972 (i.e. were young adults in the 1970s and 1980s), interestingly found no difference in overall alcohol consumption or frequency between the two groups, but apparently found that those allowed to drink before 21 had more "binge" days and fewer "non-binge" days per month compared to those who were not allowed to drink until 21.  The former were 19% more likely to "binge" more than once per month compared with the latter, and the differences were largely (if not entirely) driven by men and those who never attended college.  So what should we make of this study, which is not yet available for the general public to read?

First of all, we at Twenty-One Debunked always put the term "binge drinking" in scare quotes when we are referring to the 5+ or 5/4+ drinks definitions, as we believe that such definitions are grossly inaccurate measures of the very real problem of truly dangerous drinking, and can potentially mask actual trends in the latter.  (More information about this issue can be found in our previous posts here and here)  And we know based on the article's summary that a 5+ drinks threshold is the one used in this study, as is the case in virtually every other pro-21 study out there.  Strike one.

Secondly, no information is provided about which, if any, confounding factors are controlled for.  This is crucial because there are numerous other differences between people who grew up in different parts of the country and/or at different times.  One should also note that the effect size is fairly small as well, with a relative risk (or odds ratio) of 1.19 overall (1.31 for men who never attended college).  In epidemiological research, relative risks below 2.0 are especially likely to be due to a combination of chance, bias, and/or confounding, and thus should be taken with at least a grain of salt (if not a whole pound).  Strike two.

Finally, the study really adds nothing else new to the scientific literature beyond what was mentioned above.  Zip, zilch, nada.  And nothing about whether there were any between-group differences in actual problem drinking.  The authors (as well as MADD member Ralph Hingson) refer to other past studies (including a 2009 study which we had debunked years ago) by other authors in an attempt to connect the dots.  But given enough dots, one can pretty much connect them any way to form any picture one chooses.  Strike three, you're out!

Thus, our preliminary analysis of the study (to which we were unable to gain full access--stay tuned for updates!) suggests that the study reeks of junk science, and clearly should not be used to set public policy.  However, let us be clear that even if it (and the 2009 study about increased risk of alcoholism) somehow were 100% true, which we seriously doubt, we at Twenty-One Debunked would still support lowering the drinking age to 18.  Why?  The 21 drinking age is nothing less than a hate crime against young people, plain and simple.  In our society we know, for example, that certain ethnic groups are statistically more prone to alcoholism than others, yet we do not arrest, jail, revoke privileges, or publicly humiliate members of such groups for the simple act of drinking alcohol in the name of "public health."   That, of course, would be illegal discrimination since it violates the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection of the law, and no amount of "scientific" research can justify it.  And even known alcoholics over 21 are not jailed simply for being alcoholics--they simply hold too much political power for that.  But 18-20 year old men and women, despite being legal adults in virtually every other way, are apparently a much more acceptable target for "public health" fascism run amok, no matter how responsibly they drink.

The injustice must end NOW.  Let America be America again, and lower the drinking age to 18.  If you're old enough to go to war, you're old enough to go to the bar.  'Nuff said.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Better Alternative to Choose Responsibility's Proposal

Most people in the anti-21 movement are at least vaguely aware that the organization Choose Responsibility (with which we are NOT affiliated) has a proposal to lower the drinking age to 18, but with a notable catch:  in order to be allowed to drink alcohol, 18-20 year olds must take and pass an alcohol education course, and will be granted a "drinking license" that can be revoked for alcohol-related misbehavior.   While there may be some theoretical merits to the "drinking license" idea, there are several flaws that would become apparent upon any attempt to implement it:

1) It has become a lightning rod for criticism from both sides, especially the pro-21 groups like MADD and GHSA.
2) It makes the entire movement look quixotic (i.e. idealistic but impractical, like Don Quixote).
3) It makes the movement look ambivalent about lowering the drinking age and about whether 18-20 year olds can be trusted with alcohol.
4) It adds unnecessary complexity to the issue.
5) It would be a bureaucratic nightmare to actually enforce.
6)  As any libertarian (or even quasi-libertarian) would tell you, it kind of screams "Big Brother". (What's next, a license to breed?)
7) Other countries with a drinking age of 18 don’t have a drinking license rule.  (Dubai apparently does, but their drinking age is 21).
8) But most importantly, since it applies only to 18-20 year olds and not those over 21, it is just as ageist as the current 21 drinking age.

In contrast, our proposal for Twenty-One Debunked would allow 18-20 year olds the same drinking rights as people over 21 currently enjoy, with the following safeguards:

1) The age limit for the zero tolerance law for DUI will remain as it is now, at 21. That should alleviate any fears of increased DUI among 18-20 year olds.  In fact, it would be better if it was broadened to include all ages for the first 5 years of driving.
2) The purchase age for kegs, cases, and other large bulk quantities of alcohol will remain at 21 (or at least be no lower than 20). That should alleviate any fear of increased high school keggers.
3) DUI laws would be tightened for all ages and enforcement would be significantly increased.
4) Any person of ANY age who is convicted of DUI, drunk violence, drunk vandalism, furnishing to minors under 18, or repeated drunk and disorderly conduct would be blacklisted and banned from purchasing alcohol (or even entering a bar) for a year or until they turn 21, whatever is longer. And their ID would have to read “Do not serve alcohol under penalty of law” in big red letters. In addition, problem drinkers can also have themselves voluntarily added to the blacklist for a period of time, much like problem gamblers are currently allowed to do.
5) Alcohol education would be increased for all students at all levels.  Some successful models to follow can be found here and here.
6) In addition, the federal alcohol taxes should be raised and equalized to the inflation-adjusted 1991 spirits level ($21 per proof-gallon) for all alcoholic beverages, proportional to alcohol content.

Do all or even some of these things and there will really be no need to have a drinking license.  However, some folks in our movement may still be concerned about the absence of the alcohol education requirement as found in CR's proposal, especially for newly-legal drinkers in the first year or two of the new drinking age of 18.  That can easily be addressed by doing the following:

7)  Phase-down the general drinking age from 21 to 18 over a period of a few months, rather than immediately.  For example, lower it to 20 after 30 days, 19 after 60 days, and finally 18 after 90 days from the passage of the new law.
8)  For the first year or two of the new policy, require 18-20 year olds to obtain a certificate from an alcohol education course in order to be allowed to purchase alcohol or enter a bar.  The course should be an online one such as AlcoholEdu, which has shown dramatic results despite taking only a few hours to complete.  Simple, yet highly effective.
9)  For anyone who is currently 17 or younger, require such individuals to take and pass that alcohol education course before their 18th birthday (or very shortly after), whether they plan on drinking or not.  Those who do not fulfill this requirement would have their driver license or state ID card temporarily suspended or voided until they pass, and/or be prevented from graduating high school until they pass.  Take it as many times as you wish, but charge a fee for the third time and afterwards.

Note how this is very different from CR's proposal since there would be no special drinking license, and after the first year or two the right to buy alcoholic beverages would no longer be tied to the education requirement.  Also, the course would be a lot simpler and shorter than CR's proposed course, and far easier to implement.  We at Twenty-One Debunked are not wedded to any of these last three ideas (#7, 8, and 9), and would still support lowering the drinking age to 18 without them.  But it's still something to consider.  Not only would it help to change America's drinking culture, but it would also make it easier politically to lower the drinking age.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Latest MTF Results Are In

The 2012 Monitoring the Future survey results are finally in.  We see that, in a nutshell, alcohol use and "binge" drinking* has reached historic lows for grades 8 and 10, while there has been a slight increase from the previous year's record low for grade 12.  Cannabis use has leveled off after rising for five straight years, use of most other substances either held steady or declined, and tobacco use has fallen to record lows.  In fact, cannabis is now more popular than tobacco (but still less so than alcohol) among today's youth, and has been for the past three years in a row.  Note that this reversal of rank was more due to a decrease in tobacco use rather than due to an increase in cannabis use, since the use of both substances are down from their respective peaks in the late 1970s.

So what should we make of these results?  While the pro-21 crowd would like to take credit for the massive decrease in alcohol consumption among teenagers since 1979, one must remember that teen drinking also plummeted in Canada (and more recently in the UK) despite not raising the drinking age to 21.  Also, tobacco continued its long-term decline while for alcohol there are some signs of a turnaround, despite the smoking age remaining at 18 in nearly all states.  Thus, the relationship between the drinking age (and its enforcement) and the levels of teen drinking is not nearly as cut-and-dried as the pro-21 crowd would like us to believe.  In fact, some studies have found that the opposite may be true for dangerous drinking practices among teens and young adults.

*We at Twenty-One Debunked always put the term "binge drinking" in scare quotes when we are referring to the 5+ or 5/4+ drinks definitions, as we believe that such definitions are grossly inaccurate measures of the very real problem of truly dangerous drinking.  More information about this issue can be found in our previous posts here and here.