Opinions

Point/Counterpoint

written by Dalhousie Gazette Staff
September 10, 2010 1:00 pm

Keith Lehwald and Lance Chua, Opinions contributors

POINT(Keith): Turning 19 is a cause for celebration in Canada – and often a cause for getting drunk. The legal drinking age is something that tends to be taken for granted in North America.

However, many European countries don’t actually have laws regulating the consumption of alcohol by minors. With this in mind, I will be arguing that the legal drinking age be completely abolished in Canada, while maintaining a minimum purchasing age.

Firstly, this would work to eliminate some of the mystique of alcohol. Currently, drinking is seen as a privilege afforded only to adults. This increases its desirability among people who are underage and can actually have the effect of increasing underage drinking if the law is not very strongly enforced. In abolishing the law, alcohol loses most of its status as a symbol of “maturity”, and with it much of its desirability to minors.

COUNTERPOINT (Lance): Laws regulating the consumption of substances are not there simply for arbitrary reasons; there are sound principles behind these restrictions that stem from the mandate that a government receives from its people.

Government, regardless of whether you are on the political left, right, or a centrist, has the duty to protect its people’s rights and to hold people who disrupt the exercise of other people’s rights accountable for their actions. Society also recognizes that there are significant harms associated with the consumption, especially the excess consumption, of alcohol. These harms put not only the person drinking at risk but also places other people and their property at risk as well.

By employing a restriction on the consumption of alcohol access to alcohol is restricted to a much smaller set of individuals thereby reducing the number of people exposed to the risks of alcohol.

Disregarding the minimum drinking age is similar to handing out car keys to any individual, regardless of age or ability. It doesn’t make the lure of driving any less significant, furthermore it significantly increases the risks of being on the road for the driver and other motorists.

Keith:Furthermore, when underage drinking does occur, it mostly happens clandestinely, hidden from adults and others who would otherwise be supervising the behaviour. People often tend to binge and take part in activities like pre-drinking in an attempt to get the most out of the occasions when they are able to get away with drinking, creating bad habits even before one is legally able to drink.

Even where this does not occur, the drinking age can still have harmful effects. People who actually do fully or mostly abstain before their nineteenth birthday still have a tendency to abuse their newfound right when they legally can, something certainly not helped by friends taking advantage of the ability to buy them a drink for the first time.

Lance: Clandestine drinking events and the creation of bad habits are not going to end with the removal of the legal drinking age.

Because an adult can supply any minor with liquor without consequence supervision of drinking will not be done by adults with a vested interest in the safety of the youth that they are with, if they are with any adults to begin with. The habits that proponents of this motion so fear will not be stopped by removing the legal drinking age.

Most people who drink do so in the company of friends, most of whom would be considered their peers. Those habits therefore are built not in the company of parents but instead with people of the same age and similar mindsets. Among children and teenagers the mindset would generally be the same as it is now: doing what is cool and appealing, and doing it better than everyone else. These people will therefore still drink and will still abuse their ability to drink.

K: By removing the laws against it, underage drinking would lose much of its stigma. People would become more open to drinking publicly and in the presence of adults, and adults would become more open to seeing minors drinking.

Through early and supervised introduction to alcohol through older friends and family, responsible drinking habits could be formed that would serve people well once they became old enough to buy alcohol themselves. The “nineteenth birthday binge” would effectively be eliminated, since many people would have already started drinking openly by then, and those that had not would have made more of a conscious choice to refrain from it rather than having their hand forced by a law.

L:As I’ve already mentioned most of these habits aren’t formed in the company of parents but instead in the company of their peers. Added to this however is the fact that young people below the age of 19 don’t need to be exposed to alcohol to develop these “responsible drinking habits” that proponents claim can be developed. People don’t need to have sex to recognize the benefits of practicing safe sex and other beneficial habits and the same logic applies to alcohol.

Furthermore I don’t think it’s a good idea for the government to in any way reduce the stigma associated with a substance known to have significant risks to the population’s health and well-being. Science has proven the dangers that alcohol poses to people, especially young people. The stigma is necessary to reduce the number of people who engage in this action. And it falls to the parents or guardians of a child to develop the proper habits and attitude towards alcohol.

K: But perhaps most importantly, it encourages greater responsibility in teens and young adults. The legal drinking age is a largely arbitrary point in time in which the government decides a person is ready to make choices about alcohol. By abolishing this age, the government would recognize that people under the age of 19 are able to take responsibility for their own actions and make their own choices. Rather than drinking as a way to rebel against the system, young people would drink simply because they wanted to drink, an attitude less likely to lead to excess. By transferring the responsibility to control drinking from the government to the individual, the individual will also have a greater incentive to take that responsibility and develop good habits.

L: It’s foolish to think that a legal drinking age is an arbitrary number selected by the government. Risky behaviour due to the consumption of alcohol happens whether or not you practice “good habits.”

People drink and drive, over-consume, and accidents do happen. For our society to function smoothly, some people need to take responsibility for these actions. However, as a society we recognize that certain people can’t be held responsible for their actions because we realize that they don’t fully comprehend and are unable to make the necessary calculus about the consequences of their actions. It’s for this reason that we don’t allow seven year-olds into business contracts, 10 year-olds behind the wheel of a car, 12 year-olds to marry, or even 15 year-olds to vote. We recognize that certain abilities and privileges come with age. Consuming alcohol is one of those.

 

Keith Lehwald and Lance Chua are members of Sodales, the Dalhousie debate society. Debaters are at times forced to argue for things that they do not necessarily believe in. Therefore the opinions expressed in Point/Counterpoint are not necessarily held by the debaters, Sodales, or the Gazette.

If you are interested (or simply curious) about debating, want an avenue to express and share your opinions and beliefs check out Sodales. The first General Assembly will be on the Sept. 15 in Rowe 1007. Subsequent meetings will happen every Wednesday at LSC 220.

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