Yanez: It’s time to lower the drinking age

According to The National Institution of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the average age a person first used alcohol was 14. (Creative Commons)

In an effort to reduce alcoholism, a few state lawmakers in Wisconsin are trying to lower the drinking age from 21 to 19. While the National Minimum Drinking Age Act is responsible for the 21 year age restriction, quite a few states allow minors to consume alcohol in private residences with parental consent. Oregon is one of these statesObviously, the federal law is likely to create some hardships for this seemingly insane idea, however, with the recent prevalence of underage binge drinking, I believe that people should be able to drink at the age of majority, which is 18 in most states and territories in the United States.

Reducing Alcoholism: Changing How We View Alcohol

Part of reducing alcoholism is reducing the level of binge drinking. The National Institution of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) showed that in 2003, the average age people first used alcohol in the United States was 14. According to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2015, “32 percent of college students [continued] to stand out as having a relatively high level of binge drinking.” This “high level of binge drinking” was described as “consuming 5 or more drinks in a row…at least once in [a] two-week period. The NIAAA stated that “other behavior problems associated with alcohol use include rebelliousness.” This could confirm the notion that there exists a “forbidden fruit” association with alcohol and the current legal drinking age.

By lowering the drinking age to 18, those who wait until they’re legally allowed to purchase alcohol can have their first drink in the comfort of their own home rather than away at college. Parents who worry about their children getting alcohol poisoning or taken advantage of at parties could then have confidence that their children will make better choices with alcohol at parties.

How Responsible Drinking Can Stimulate the Economy

The economy could be positively stimulated by lowering the drinking age to 18. Assuming that at least half of the about 4,000 incoming freshmen per year over the past few years were 18, there would be at least 12,000 newer students currently attending UO that could now drink. With an increase in demand, this means more bars would likely open near campus. More bars equates to more jobs and more jobs means more income tax revenue.

The state of Oregon received about $1.53 per capita in alcohol tax revenue from Eugene and Springfield residents this past September. This means that the state could receive up to an additional $18,360 per month in tax revenue, only counting those 12,000 UO students. This does not include others in Eugene and Springfield who graduate high school or attend Lane Community College.

For reference, Eugene and Springfield brought in just under $346,000 in tax revenue during that month. That’s an additional $220,320 per year from just UO students in the third largest metropolitan area in the state. While this doesn’t sound like much, the Eugene-Springfield area has four four-year colleges and universities, a community college, a satellite campus for Pacific University, and a post-secondary school.

Some Opposing Arguments Make Little Sense

Arguments for keeping the drinking age at 21 include impairing brain development and illegal purchase for minors. Some argue that a lot of things will turn your brain to mush, like our parents would say about watching too much TV. 

Many are of the opinion that it is unsafe to drink before you’re 21, but what about enlisting in the military, which only requires you to be 18? There’s obviously a higher risk of death with that decision, but it only requires you to be the age of majority.

Perhaps an area of concern would be that seniors in high school would technically be able to drink. This is a valid concern, which could possibly be avoided by making the age limit similar to what Wisconsin is considering – 19 years old. Even then, we cannot completely prevent people from buying alcohol for minors.

One thing is certain: The drinking age is actually a purchasing age, which has become a de facto drinking age through misunderstanding. That being said, we cannot ignore the fact that the United States has a binge drinking problem that isn’t common around the world.

Oregonians Should be Free

We have a fairly bad alcoholism problem that can be partially attributed to how minors view alcohol as a forbidden fruit. Perhaps the reason lies within the culture and how alcohol is usually consumed with food rather than chugged like in movies such as ‘Animal House.’ We can make that change in Oregon; lowering the drinking age can help change how minors view alcohol. Parents could teach healthy drinking habits instead of hoping that they don’t adversely affect their grades with hangovers. There’s the fact that we could help improve the economy in several ways – job creation, more cash flowing through businesses and an increase in tax revenue. While this sounds nice, there’s something that has been seemingly forgotten about ourselves as a society: our personal freedom.

At some point in our generation, the state will need to make a decision about its priorities: Should we be tightening laws on what people can willingly take into their bodies or should we broaden these laws to make Oregon an example of freedom? If we continue to allow the state to tell us what to think and believe, we’re not going to be a free state. After all, Oregon is a state with a wide variety of beer, wine, and distilled spirits, but if you dare have any of these drinks on a public sidewalk (outside of Hood River), the police will hand you a ticket. Does this sound like the state has your personal freedoms in its interest?

We also need to seriously consider a few other questions: How many college students must be taken advantage of at parties before we take this issue seriously? How many people must be hospitalized for alcohol poisoning before we think about changing behavior through awareness and teaching responsible drinking habits? Hopefully, we can come to our senses before it gets too out of hand.

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