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A matter of maturity

April 2, 2008 - Kevin Sweeney
Back in the 1970s, after Minnesota had lowered its drinking age to 18, it was considering raising it back up to 19. It seemed a lot of 18-year-olds were buying liquor for their 16- and 17-year-old buddies, and the state felt adding another year to the drinking age would help this problem. Nineteen-year-olds, they felt, wouldn't be associating with 16-year-olds.

I was working as a reporter for the LeSueur News-Herald at the time, and one of my duties was the weekly "Man in the Street" column. So one week I asked, "Should Minnesota change the drinking age to 19?"

I got the greatest response from one young fellow: "I think they should change it to 26, so I could go out in the woods with my buddies, have two beers and get drunk and then stand around on the street corner and smart off to the cops."

Now that Rep. Phyllis Kahn has introduced legislation to lower the drinking age to 18 again, I am reminded of that response. Kahn's purpose is to do something about the spate of newly-minted 21-year-olds going out and drinking themselves to death on their 21st birthday, which has happened too frequently this year.

I don't think changing the drinking age to 18 is going to make 21-year-olds any more responsible. It will just make it easier for younger kids to get liquor, it will send more college students into bars, and it will lead to more 18-year-olds drinking themselves to death on their birthday. The problem with drinking is not a matter of age, it's a matter of maturity.

The late, great Mike Royko, the sage of Chicago, wrote about the issue in a column. Some young lady asked him to support a lower drinking age. Royko wrote that he had learned a lot about the effects of drinking from working in his old man's saloon at the age of 14, and from hard experience. He said that "Drinking is a serious business that shouldn't be undertaken by anyone who thinks it's a good idea to have bigger wheels on the back end of your car than on the front."

In America we have a terribly immature attitude about drinking. It is presented in the movies and on TV, especially the liquor ads, as great fun. Crack open a beer and buxom cheerleaders will sit on your lap, etc. etc.

If we want to solve the problem with alcohol we need to educate people about its effects, and quit making it the great national indoor and outdoor sport.


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