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Commentary: Evidence clear, don’t reduce drinking age

By Terry Osborne
For the Salisbury Post
In light of the recent appeal of 100 college and university presidents requesting state legislators to consider lowering the drinking age from 21-18, I feel it necessary to offer some evidence which leads me to question the depth of thought of such learned individuals.
Apparently, these individuals are just now recognizing the consequences of many years of negligence in enforcing stricter rules against underage alcohol consumption on campus and their failure to be more proactive in dealing with those problems.
The American Medical Association has concluded that the 21 drinking age was based on sound scientific evidence that demonstrates the dangers and consequences of early alcohol use. Earlier studies which insinuated that the magical age of 18 suddenly removed any health issues associated with abusive drinking have proven to be totally erroneous. The areas of the brain responsible for learning, memory, complex thinking and other functions are continuing to develop not only at 18 but well into the 20s.
College presidents are now desperate for action, due to the adverse impact on the reputations of their respective institutions as well as decreased enrollments due to the same issues.
Research has further shown that 2 million of the alcohol-dependent adults 21 or older used alcohol before age 14. Those who use alcohol before age 15 are five times more likely to become dependent, according to the Century Council in Washington, D.C., whose mission is to fight underage drinking and promote programs oriented against underage use.
Annually, about 5,000 people under the age of 21 die from injuries related to underage drinking. Even more significant is the fact that 45 percent of these victims were someone other than the driver.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that the 21 legal age has reduced traffic fatalities by 13 percent since its inception in 1975; it is also estimated that more than 25,000 lives have been saved during that time.
Ironically, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J), Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C) and the late Rep. James Howard (D-N.J), recently were lauded for their efforts in helping pass the 21 life-saving law 24 years ago this past July. (Dole was a primary supporter of this initiative while serving as secretary of the U.S Department. of Transportation under President Reagan).
Instead of the desperation ploy these college presidents have initiated, they should evaluate and recognize the problems on our campuses and apply proactive initiatives. These are some suggestions for addressing the problems:
– Enforce strict rules against alcohol use and emphasize the consequences appropriate for ensuring compliance; this would leave no doubt of their positions and the seriousness of the issue.
– Holding all student groups on campus ó such as fraternities and sororities, athletic teams and other organizations ó accountable for underage use.
– Eliminate alcohol sponsorships of athletic events and various campus social events.
– Make parents, instructors and others aware of the consequences of underage drinking and the indirect impacts, such as upsetting the normal study atmosphere of a college campus.
– Finally, do what I am proud to say that our local colleges and community college are doing: Partner with community stakeholders to form a coalition utilizing many facets of the community in a unified effort addressing alcohol issues.
Perhaps the college presidents should look at efforts such as those recently initiated by the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Because of recent off-field conduct issues among NFL players, the Redskins organization created a full-time “director of team responsibility” position to help guide players toward responsible behavior and accountability.
Along the same lines, our local Alcohol Beverage Control Board takes the responsibility approach very seriously with our emphasis on “control.” Beginning at the middle-school level, we promote programs that discourage under-age drinking and educate children about the eventual consequences involved. Our organization has sought and received assistance from many agencies and organizations that assist us in our programs, including the U.S. Department. of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Justice Department., the Century Council and numerous others. Our efforts have been instrumental in bringing about positive legislation, such as House Bill 1277 which revokes the driver’s license of any person convicted of giving alcohol to, or aiding the purchase of alcohol by, an underage person. We believe taking a pro-active approach to combat the underage issue.
I would urge the college presidents to review the staggering statistics available from the office of the Surgeon General, released in 2007, which show 18 European countries that have lower legal drinking ages than the United States ó and very high instances of binge drinking.
We’ve studied and evaluated the available research, and it serves as a guide in our approach. Maybe these persons with such advanced wisdom and knowledge should advocate the same.
– – –
Terry Osborne is general manager of the Rowan/Kannapolis Alcohol Beverage Control Board.

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