Let them drink beer

I’ve always enjoyed a healthy dose of beer. I’m not a dangerous drinker by any stretch—I’ve never puked, passed out or forgotten events because of alcohol, and it’s not a pillar of my weekend.

But when I arrived at Queen’s two years ago, it was only a matter of days before I was thanking the patron saint of Honey Brown that I’d turned 19 before September.

Incoming class of 2008, I feel bad for you. About 95 per cent of you will be below the legal drinking age when you get here, and that’ll suck. Not because drinking is a cornerstone of post-secondary life—far from it—but because it means most of you will have to spend a year or two stuck in the politics and misinformation-fuelled limbo that somehow hands you control over every aspect of your life except whether you can legally celebrate with a pint after your midterm.

In light of this province’s current educational and social framework, this just doesn’t make sense.

Higher drinking age proponents often argue that the 19th-birthday cutoff is meant to synchronize with the driver licensing age and reduce teen drunk driving. True, a disproportionate number of impaired-driving crashes are caused by young drivers, but mainly due to teenagers’ inexperience behind the wheel. In fact, roadside stop statistics show teens are much less likely than their parents to drive with any alcohol in their systems, which suggests graduated licensing conditions and the constant flood of public service ads are the heavier casks in the policy cellar.

Besides, there’s not much evidence that legal drinking ages, in and of themselves, affect anything at all.

One 1995 study of American and European 16-year-olds showed little correlation between the legal drinking age and young people’s drinking patterns.

Closer to home, an Ontario study conducted in 1981, two years after the legal drinking age was raised to 19 from 18, showed virtually identical results.

In other words, if the province’s graduating teens want to drink, they will.

But since their September destination is the independent world of university or college, they’re likely to want the corresponding adult privilege of choosing where to hang out, whether they drink there or not.

And 20 per cent of Ontario Grade 12 students told the Ontario Student Drug Use survey last year that they hadn’t consumed any alcohol in the previous year, suggesting that the number who drink rarely and responsibly is much higher.

But despite this and other evidence that the educational approach to drinking choices has more kick than the legislative one, Ontario’s alcohol policy hasn’t kept pace with its changes to the secondary system. University staff are still wasting time and money trying to devise booze-proof social activities for underage frosh, while the University’s brand-new all-ages program was virtually cancelled last year because it was too hard for staff in crowded campus pubs to keep beer out of minors’ hands.

A toast to fixing this tedious situation by lowering the legal drinking age to 17. Cheers.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.