LETTER TO THE EDITOR
This letter appeared in the Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) on 7 October 1997.
This item may be cited as M. R. Franks, Letter to the Editor: This only happens in the USA, Baton Rouge Advocate, October 7, 1997, at 6B.
Copyright © 1997, M. R. Franks
You won't find college students dying of binge drinking in England, Italy, Germany or anywhere else but the good ole' USA. But then, where else in the world do they expect youngsters of 18 to fight and die for their country and to be mature enough to get married, hold credit cards, vote and run the country - but not to drink? By what logic are persons competent at 15 to drive vehicles that kill, but incompetent until 21 to handle even one beer?
Our liquor laws make drinking a "rite of passage" to adulthood, fostering rather than discouraging teen alcohol consumption. We set youngsters up for an "I'm 21 now, so gimme my six-pack" mentality. We make it illegal for youngsters to serve an apprenticeship in responsible drinking, ensuring that what little instruction they get comes from their most immature peers in the high school parking lot, rather than from family members seated around the dining table at home. We wait until three years past voting age to thrust these ill-prepared drinkers onto the bar scene, equipping them better with vehicular horsepower than with sober wisdom.
Many European countries permit minors accompanied by a parent to enjoy a glass of wine with a restaurant meal, typically beginning at age 12. In France, Germany, Italy and Spain, a young adult of 16 may buy wine or beer unaccompanied by a parent, whereas the drinking age for distilled beverages in Europe (and most of the world) is 18.
By the time a young European is old enough to drive (at a sensible 18, certainly not 15), he or she already has had some experience with responsible drinking and, more importantly, alcohol already has lost some of its allure.
Drunken driving is rarer in Europe than in America. The per capita auto fatality rate in England, for example, is half that of the United States. But then, Europe doesn't suffer from the delusion that the best way to stop drunken driving is to deny people alcohol. Most countries simply punish drunken drivers. Severely. How sensible! Why don't we do likewise?
Jewish children traditionally have a glass of wine as part of the religious ceremony accompanying the Friday evening meal. Despite this (or perhaps because of it), Jewish families have little alcoholism and almost no teen-age drunken driving.
America's puritanical, prohibitionist mentality has created a serious drunken driving problem. When we raised the drinking age to 21, we exacerbated teen-age drinking. Now we're headed down the same road on tobacco as well: prohibit the activity rather than discourage it, making the activity a badge of adulthood, setting the stage for a teen black market.
I can't believe that the alcoholic beverage and tobacco industries don't know exactly what they're doing: suckering well-meaning but naive legislators into enacting cosmetic and often draconian prohibitions to fool the masses into believing that something is being done, while actually promoting rather than discouraging teen consumption!
Isn't it time we raised the driving age, lowered the drinking age and repealed unwise laws that prohibit youngsters from learning to drink in moderation under supervised mentorship within the family?
The harvest of our shortsighted mindset is binge drinking in college, alcoholism in adult life and increased carnage on America's highways.
M. R. Franks, professor of family law
2 Swan St.
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