The proposal to increase the drinking age in Victoria from 18 to 21 is back on the table. It will be considered by the State government if current policy efforts to restrict binge drinking fail.
I strongly support the move to restrict youth access to alcohol with such a policy. Alcohol is a neurotoxin that has particularly damaging effects on the brain at ages up to 25. In addition those who start drinking early are more likely to become alcohol dependent and drinking is a major cause of traffic accidents particularly among the young – they are much more at risk than older drinkers. Most importantly alcohol abuse at young ages delays development of the thinking parts of the brain.
The claim that such policies are sometimes ineffective is true but irrelevant. Making it illegal to consume alcohol at age less than 21 increases the user costs of gaining illicit supplies and provides an obstacle to youth drinking. It also sends out a negative message that can be backed up with empirical evidence of the neurotoxicity of alcohol for consumption at young ages.
I also strongly support bans on the advertising of alcopops and related alcoholic drinks that appeal to youth. Industry codes of conduct won’t work since the adult alcohol consumption market is declining and the industry depends on addicting young drinkers for its growth. I agree with Chris Berg of the IPA that advertising of alcopops is informative advertising which introduces young consumers to new products. But the information provided is misleading in that it does not warn adequately of the health risk dangers of drinking while young and falsely suggests a range of benefits associated with drinking alcohol.
By the way it is claimed that keeping the US drinking age at 21 cuts the road toll among 18-20 year olds by 13%. Despite this many US states are thinking about reducing the age limit.
The Federal proposal to put warning labels on alcohol containers can do no harm. The literature on deterring kids from smoking however suggests that the best way to deter kids from drinking excessively however is to portray drunken kids as losers which of course they are. The best costs to emphasise are those that relate to current fitness and social acceptability. Absolutely there should be no suggestion that excessive drinking is something that adults only can engage in.
To the standard charge when I make these posts that I am a hypocrite because I drink myself (or did* drink) I say balderdash. That has literally nothing to do with the issue being discussed which relates to the case for allowing young people to damage their brains. The issue of my own hypocrisy – or indeed stupidity - is irrelevant to this.
* I’ve been off the booze for 2 months 24 days. Researching the booze issue has changed my own attitude to the stuff.