Do you consider 18-year-olds to be adults? Should an 18-year-old be allowed to vote, buy porn and cigarettes, and fight in the military? Most people won’t hesitate to answer yes.
So why can’t an 18-year-old adult have an alcoholic beverage?
At long last, it seems like Saskatchewan might finally let all adults decide when and how to drink. After the party’s younger delegates made a strong case for it, the Saskatchewan Party passed a resolution at its convention last week to study lowering the drinking age from 19 to 18. If the government follows through, Saskatchewan would be the fourth province in Canada to set the drinking age at 18, joining Quebec and our two prairie neighbours Alberta and Manitoba.
Not everyone is on board. Donna Harpauer, the minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, says this will let alcohol get into high schools more easily. Others point to drunk driving statistics as a warning not to make alcohol more readily available to young drivers; according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Saskatchewan has 8.44 impairment-related crash deaths per 100,000 people — the highest in the country and more than double the national average.
There’s more to responsible drinking than the drinking age, though. The culture around booze has much more to do with it. It should fall to parents to teach children how best to enjoy alcohol and how not to go overboard.
A higher drinking age might actually contribute to dangerous habits as well. In the states, where the drinking age is a ridiculous 21, binge drinking on college campuses is out of control partly because there are no legal ways for students to enjoy a drink. Instead, they pound back shots at parties or their dorms, where there is less incentive for moderation than in a bar.
The concerns about making alcohol legally available one year earlier are valid, but we all know that’s not when people actually start to drink. Most people sneak a few Bacardi Breezers during high school, so there is no reason to pretend the drinking age is anything but symbolic. If anything, its illicit nature makes the activity even more appealing to teens.
The good news is that people are at least thinking about at what age it is appropriate to start drinking alcohol. As the Regina Leader-Post’s Barb Pacholik wrote last week, it’s not a new debate either. Saskatchewan’s drinking age was 21 until 1969, when it was dropped to 19. Three years later it was dropped to 18 but by 1976 it was raised again thanks to the efforts of NDP MLA Auburn Pepper (what a name!).
In all these debates, health and safety concerns were always front and centre, but it’s about time we recognize that you can’t legislate good behaviour. That falls to the cultural norms and practices that shape our provinces. In the meantime, it’s entirely unfair that we deny 18-year-old adults the chance to decide for themselves whether they want to drink.
Illustration: Jireh Wong