The Saratoga Sun -

Can vote, go to war, but can't drink


I put myself through the University of Maryland being a bartender.

I was able to work on Capitol Hill for political organizations that paid meager wages because I could supplement my income.

When I moved to work on my masters at the University of Hawaii my first job was making drinks for tourists.

After I left Hawaii, I moved to Taiwan where my English teaching pay was added to by working at bars.

I tell people I was destined to be a bartender because at the age of five, my father had me making his Gibsons. As a reward, I got the pickled onion­—or if I made an Old Fashioned, I would get the cherry.

In Asia, I found my English and bartending skills much in demand.

I worked with large companies such as Jim Beam, Smirnoff, Buffalo Trace and some smaller companies.

I was exposed to the corporate spirits world in a way that made me aware of a lot of demographic data on drinking trends.

I bartended because I enjoyed learning customer’s tastes and applying marketing ideas I picked up working with those companies.

I have served drinks in Australia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and, of course the USA.

I was extremely fortunate when I returned to the USA (Wyoming in particular), the Lazy River Cantina would usually have a position for me.

It was great, and thanks go to the McIlvaine family for having a place for me to practice my craft here in Carbon County.

One thing I had trouble wrapping my mind around while working in the United States was the drinking age being 21.

In Australia it is 19.

In Canada it is 19.

In Taiwan it is 18 and in China it is 18.

In England, Spain and Switzerland it is 16 for beer and wine and 18 for spirits.

I especially like how England on Feb. 24, 2008 spelled out drinking for their youth: You have to be 18 to buy or consume alcohol on a licensed premise. People aged 16 and 17, with the licensee’s permission, may consume wine, beer or cider with a table meal in specific areas of the premises, providing they’re with an adult who orders it.

The USA is the only Western country to set the drinking age at 21.

The others are Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, Kiribati, Micronesia, Mongolia, Nauru, Oman, Palau, Samoa and Sri Lanka.

Out of 190 countries in the world, 19 don’t have any minimum drinking age.

In 16 countries it is illegal to drink at all.

61 percent of 190 countries have a drinking age of 19 or younger.

The drinking age in the USA was once different. The repeal of prohibition by the 21st Amendment on Dec. 5, 1933 allowed each state to set its own alcohol consumption laws.

Following the July 1, 1971 passage of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the legal voting age from 21 to 18 years of age, 30 US states lowered the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) to 18, 19, or 20. By 1982, only 14 states still had an MLDA of 21.

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 had states raise their legal age for purchase or public possession of alcohol to 21 or risk losing millions in federal highway funds. By 1988, all 50 states had raised the MLDA to 21. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (and Guam until 2010) remained at 18 despite losing 10 percent of their federal highway funds.

I understand what led Senator Lautenburg(D-NJ) to introduce the bill. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was lobbying hard to raise the age because fatalities were high for teenagers—probably due to the laxer laws on drunk driving at the time.

But times have changed and drinking and driving has much more serious penalties now. At any age, getting into a car under the influence is not acceptable.

This is true across the globe. I have seen roadblocks to catch drunk drivers in every country I resided.

I guess because I lived in countries with a lower drinking age, I see the benefits of people under 21 drinking.

I had a bar in Taiwan for five years. Many customers, Western and Taiwanese, were 19 and 20. I didn’t see the patrons under 21 being more out of hand than any other type patron. Sometimes someone under 21 would get drunk, but they would be cared for.

There was one family from South Africa with six family members that came out almost every Friday for dinner and drinks. The four sons ranged in age from 18 to 23. I would join the group and enjoy the experience of being around them all.

In 29 states, a drink can be served to a family member under 21 in a home by a guardian, and eight (Wyoming is one)allow drinking with your family in a restaurant.

Too bad it isn’t all 50.

My first over-imbibing was at my older brother’s bachelor party. I was sixteen and my father wasn’t really happy I was there, but my brother wanted me. Long story, short, I had two drinks that crushed me—one had all white spirits, the next all brown spirits. Ironically, I remember my father coming up to me and saying not to get drunk just as the room started spinning.

I would not touch alcohol again for two years and it was the family joke.

“Hey Mike, want a drink?”

I am grateful I was around family when I overdid it.

Depending on the state, my father and brother could have been arrested for allowing me to partake at this party.

I was one of those who lived in the time where 18 was the legal drinking age. Did I get crazy drunk when I hit the day of being legal? Hell no! I knew exactly what would happen.

My 21st birthday was celebrated in a college dorm and I won’t deny I did drink some. But I didn’t end up praying to the porcelain god—which I have seen happen too many times to someone celebrating 21 in the states.

Not only did I graduate college in four years, most of my friends did too. Drinking alcohol did not damage our grades and I believe it actually helped my social life.

I have heard of studies that say drinking before 21 can cause damage to the brain and other organs. I don’t dispute drinking alcohol should be done with awareness of what it can do to a body. As I understand it, the brain of a 21 year old and an 18 year old, is pretty much the same. But if alcohol is being consumed irresponsibly, then yes, having an earlier start can do more harm–simply because it will happen for a longer time.

Let me be clear, as a bartender and past marketer, I am all about responsible drinking.

However, if our legal system is willing to put a gun in the hand of someone under 21 and let them go to war, it strikes me as somewhat hypocritical that same person can’t be responsible about their body.

This is not a new argument. The idea “if you can fight for your country, you should be able to drink” traces its roots to World War II when President Franklin Roosevelt lowered the military age to 18.

When the voting age lowered to 18 in 1971, the MLDA was similarly lowered. The concept being able-to-vote males, subject to being involuntarily drafted into the military, should also be able to legally consume alcoholic beverages.

In truth, I think the right age is 19. Usually a person is out of high school and starting college, joining the military or going into the workforce. I believe if you are responsible enough to make those type of decisions, you are probably able to figure out not to over drink.

I recognize law enforcement might be nervous about lowering the age. Our police force works hard enough without having to take on kids who don’t drink responsibly, but if anything, lowering the drinking age would be less law to enforce.

There is a lot of info supporting both positions on the topic: Traffic deaths, alcohol poisoning, historical precedents but it all boils down to this.

I lived in other countries where I saw lower drinking ages working out fine.

You can’t convince me American parents in every state are less responsible in teaching their youth to drink than countries that allow a lower age. My father proved it years ago with me and I suspect more than one reader has a similar experience with their own folks.


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