Andrew Dickens: Raise level of common sense, not drinking age

Author
Andrew Dickens,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 5 December 2018, 12:24p.m.
There have been renewed calls to raise the drinking age. (Photo / Getty)

It’s back. The issue from the deep. The issue that has been round and round in circles so much that it’s dizzy. And it’s back with a one-two punch.

First the Inquiry into mental health suggested it, and then a Coroner came out swinging after a teen death through drink driving.

And now people are asking, "is it time to raise the alcohol purchasing age to 20-years-old?"

The argument for the raise is pretty solid. The Law Commission has repeatedly suggested it. Medical evidence on accident probability and the effect on the brain and body of tends to supports it. There’s evidence that after the drinking age was lowered to 18-years-old in 1999, the number of alcohol related driving accidents amongst the 15-19-year-old age group had a corresponding rise.

Allegedly, most of us support it. A nationwide poll by Curia Market Research, commissioned by Family First NZ in 2013, asked respondents, “do you think Parliament should have raised the drinking age to 20-years-old or kept it at 18-years-old?”

The majority of people agreed with, 62 per cent of respondents saying Parliament should have voted to raise the drinking age to 20-years-old. Only 32 per cent agreed with the politicians that it should remain at 18-years-old.

Other countries have higher ages, like the USA and Samoa at 21-years-old and Iceland, Sri Lanka and Paraquay at 20-years-old. Their young people haven’t rebelled.

And frankly we’re appalling drinkers. Bingers and many unable to control their emotions under the influence. Then there’s the suburban explosion of outlets selling truckloads of RTDs to the neighbourhood teens.

So it’s a no brainer.

But then again, at 18-years-old you can vote, fight for your country and marry. So don’t you deserve a beer? You’ve left school, you’ve got a job, you’ve got a flat, you’re operating big machinery, but you can’t handle a glass of wine? Perhaps our childish attitude to booze stems from being treated like children.

How can we possibly learn to integrate alcohol into our lives if the State prohibits it? While the majority of countries have an age limit of 18-years-old, there are many European States with age limits lower than that, like 15, 16 and 17-years-old and even some states with no age limit at all. In fact, most European States have no minimum limit for the consumption of alcohol in public and private. And do those countries have alcohol problems greater than ours?

Like many of you, I flip and flop on this issue all the time. After another tale of teenage alcohol disaster your gut screams raise the age. But then on Christmas Day, when you serve your 17-year-old a Prosecco with Christmas lunch, it feels like 18-years-old is just about right.

Is it time for a debate? Could it be time for a referendum? Probably. But after much toing and froing with myself, I believe we’ve come too far to wind back the clock. And the answer was in the coroners own words.

He said the teens death, and untold others like it, could have been prevented by "individuals applying common sense". In the absence of drivers applying common sense the coroner said it was "incumbent on the State" to further restrict access to alcohol. No, it’s incumbent on the State to enforce the learning of common sense.

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