Alcohol laws: U.S. vs. U.K.

By Kelly McKee
October 28, 2004

Scott Fobes

You’re 20 years old. You can die for your country. You can vote, hold public office, serve on juries, sign contracts, smoke, have sex, get married and even buy a gun. You can’t appreciate the flavors a good merlot brings out of filet mignon. It’s too dangerous to enjoy a beer with your friends on a summer’s day. You cannot enter this bar with your slightly older friends. Oh, but you can pay taxes. Certainly you can go to war. You’re an adult…aren’t you?

Back in Northern Ireland I can drink legally. I have been able to since I was 18 years old. I came to America and now I can’t. I hear you say, “typical Irish…always going on about booze.” This, although partially true, is not why I am writing this perspective. I am writing it for the sake of all you American students, who I feel are being discriminated against by the high age restrictions on alcohol consumption in the United States.

I find it difficult in seeing the logic behind absolute restriction of alcohol to anyone under 21, then as soon as that liberating day comes around, you can go out to the bar and consume 21 kamikaze shots with no problems, well from the law anyway. This prohibitive society has led to problems such as underage drinking costing Americans nearly $53 billion annually. Also in 2000, 21 percent of 15- to 20-year-old drivers who were killed in crashes were intoxicated.

This is not to say that Europe does not also face its own share of problems related to teenage drinking. Especially in the United Kingdom, problems with binge drinking among teens have escalated in recent years. However the general consensus regarding alcohol consumption in Europe is comparatively liberal, with alcohol being introduced to people from a young age, lessening the novelty.

In the United Kingdom minimum legal drinking age there is four. At that age, a person, supervised by a parent or responsible adult, can legally have alcoholic drink with a meal, at home, in a restaurant or in the dining area of a bar.

At 16, you acquire a new right. You can, unaccompanied, legally order and pay for beer or cider to have with a meal in a restaurant or in the dining area of a bar. At 18, you outgrow all restrictions, and can order and pay for and consume any drink, to consume at home or anywhere in the premises of a restaurant, bar or nightclub.

Allowing children to experience alcohol at a young age, under supervision, is a trend that runs throughout Europe, especially in southern countries such as Spain, France and Greece. I feel early exposure takes the mystique out of alcohol because it is not forbidden and teens don’t regard drinking as being rebellious or cool. I’m not advocating ‘happy hour’ in kindergarten, but a sensible education on alcohol coming from the home.

In the United States, the government has made alcohol out to be an evil that only fuels a teenager’s curiosity. It is time for America to wake up and realize that no matter how strict the laws are if young people choose to drink they will and unfortunately they will learn irresponsibly. People “want what they can’t have.” Consider prohibition. Restricted from alcohol, of-age-adults had the same “wild parties” in the 1920s because it was made illegal. The adults reacted the same way as teens today when put under the same circumstances.

I feel control is too harsh in the United States and that by totally restricting young people from alcohol it is only urging them to drink irresponsibly, often leading to dangerous outcomes. Would you hand a non-driver your car keys as soon as they turned 16 and allow them to take to the road. Without their having experience and education I am sure you would answer “no.” Think about it.

Posted to the Web by: Scott Fobes

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Kelly McKee

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