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Should legal drinking ages be altered?

By in Opinions

OTTAWA, VICTORIA (CUP) — Would altering the legal drinking age be a proactive measure in curbing excessive binge drinking among youth? Jaclyn Lytle of the Fulcrum argues that the drinking age should not be altered, while Graham Briggs of The Martlet argues that it should be lowered to 18 in all of Canada.

The Fulcrum (University of Ottawa)

OTTAWA (CUP) — Throughout Canada, there are a plethora of things a person can do before they can chug back their first legal drink. You can drive, you can smoke and you can even vote in most provinces and all territories before a bartender will permit you to order your preferred poison without having your ID confiscated. That’s the way it should be.

Beer, booze, liquor, spirits: Call it what you will — alcohol is one substance that is easily enjoyed, but even more effortlessly abused. Blackouts, injury, alcohol poisoning, unprotected sex, increased instances of violence and impaired driving are all known and common consequences of binge drinking, a habit underage drinkers partake in far more often than their of-age counterparts according to the American National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, as well as Health Canada.

Youth are getting their hands on alcohol whether we like it or not, but that’s no reason to make it any easier for them. Study after study illustrates the inability of drinkers under 19 to make responsible choices not only about the amount of alcohol they consume, but also about what to do once they’ve consumed it. Lowering the legal drinking age to the point at which many youth actually start drinking, around 16 years old, would do nothing but exacerbate an already out-of-control issue.

If provincial governments are willing to band together to do something to actually improve the way alcohol is consumed in our country, then their focus should be education, not legalization. Alcohol is a mind-altering substance with major impairment capabilities, and youth need to understand that. What we need is a consumption education program with updated statistics that reflect the serious alcohol-related consequences of today.

It would be naïve to expect a lowered drinking age to have any positive impact on rates of responsible alcohol consumption. The only thing that is going to influence the nature of youth drinking is giving them the information they need to make knowledgeable choices. Lowering the legal drinking age would be taking the easy way out; putting time and monetary resources into modernizing and standardizing alcohol education is the responsible choice.

The Martlet (University of Victoria)

VICTORIA (CUP) — Canada’s provinces should follow the lead of Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec and lower the legal drinking age to 18.

Eighteen-year-olds can vote in elections. They are deemed old and responsible enough to be accorded full democratic rights as citizens of a free country. And they are responsible for bearing the duties and consequences that come with those democratic rights. Politically, 18-year-olds are adults.

Eighteen-year-olds can also join the military. They can be trained to fight and kill in the name of their country. They can be sent to war. In the eyes of the military and the state that commands it, 18-year-olds are adults.

Eighteen-year-olds also contribute to the Canada Pension Plan. They are deemed old enough to give part of their earnings to an institution that makes up part of Canada’s social safety net, because one day, they will rely on it. According to one of the basic institutions of our welfare state, 18-year-olds are adults.

Most importantly, 18-year-olds are tried as adults in criminal court. When convicted, they are sentenced and punished as adults. In matters of justice, crime and punishment, 18-year-olds are adults.

Given all these serious political, economic and legal rights and responsibilities, it’s astoundingly absurd that, in most of Canada, 18-year-olds are not deemed mature enough to legally purchase and consume alcohol.

Now, there are of course serious dangers related to alcohol consumption, like drunk driving, addiction, increased risk of serious trauma injury, organ damage from binge drinking and long-term chronic use, and increased risk of a litany of diseases.

Governments should act to dissuade all age groups from drinking, not just young drinkers. Public education campaigns targeting alcohol, much like those targeting tobacco and illegal drugs, should be stepped up. Like tobacco packaging, alcohol packaging should include warnings about the serious dangers and health risks that alcohol consumption poses.

If 18-year-olds are old enough to vote, to be tried as adults in criminal court, to contribute to the Canada Pension Plan, to kill and die in war, surely they are old enough to legally purchase and consume alcohol.

Photo: Alex Smyth/The Fulcrum

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