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Column: Lower drinking age won't stop abuse

By Sue Carlton
St. Petersburg Times
The scenario would seem to defy logic.
If the drinking age were lowered from 21 to 18, an initiative currently endorsed by the heads of about 100 colleges and universities nationwide, picture this: Freshmen will suddenly shun an extra cup of suds from the frat-house keg and refuse one more dip into the Everclear punch. On quarter-beer night, they will return to their dorms with change still jingling in their pockets.
“Given this new rule, my school has entrusted me with great responsibility despite my tender age,” young students will say. “Therefore, I reject binge drinking, on principle and in practice!” Or, not.
Among the ostensible reasons for what’s being called the Amethyst Initiative is to try to curb a culture of dangerous binge drinking “often conducted off-campus.”
Binge drinking is bad and should be curbed.
But is letting kids drink at a younger age really how we accomplish this?
“Twenty-one is not working,” the initiative’s Web site declares, and given that underage imbibing has become something of a college tradition, there is some truth to that.
But even people who went to school back when the magic number was 18 can tell you stories of partying gone out of control, of holding back a roomie’s hair at night’s end.
Binge drinking is not something newly discovered by the current crop.
Another reason cited by those who support the lowered age: Students use fake IDs and therefore “make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law.”
We should make illegal acts legal so no one risks compromising themselves by breaking the law? Wouldn’t logic have us believe that at least some portion of the population avoids violating a law simply because the law exists? We don’t necessarily honor that “no right on red” traffic sign because we endorse its message. We do it because we’re not allowed, and because we might get caught.
And wouldn’t you think the law, however imperfect, keeps bartenders and store owners on notice and makes it at least somewhat harder to accomplish the act?
“We haven’t signed, and we haven’t seen any evidence to suggest we should,” University of South Florida spokesman Michael Hoad told me.
Now, you would hate to think, as critics have suggested, that some school officials who support this push simply don’t want the responsibility of policing underage drinking, that it’s just one more in loco parentis headache.
And speaking of parents, the real ones bear responsibility, lessons in moderation, respect and appropriateness when it comes to alcohol start at home.
The answer is not in relaxing restrictions.
It lies somewhere between education and enforcement, not in abdicating responsibility. Because where’s the logic in that?

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