Fresh debate over legal drinking age

It has been an issue that has been floated many times in the last few years. Those in favor of lowering the drinking age feel it will help control teenage drinking. Those opposed say the higher legal drinking age saves lives.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan said raising the drinking age to 21 was not a fad or an experiment. It's a proven success. He added that nearly every state that raised the drinking age to 21 produced a significant drop in teenage driving fatalities. Reagan recommended that all 50 states make 21 the legal drinking age. Over two decades later there is a national movement to reconsider the issue and allow 18-year-olds to consume alcohol legally.

"I probably wouldn't agree with it right away," said Alex Reichi, "because I think a lot of the 18 and 19 year olds still aren't responsible enough for themselves."

The annual convention of the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators addressed the issue of lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18.

Former college president John McCardell, the founder of the non-for profit organization Choose Responsibility, has stirred debate about lowering the drinking age. He is traveling across the country and strongly believes the country needs to consider the benefits of lowering the legal drinking age and pushing alcohol education.

"The magical answer is not the drinking age. It is preparing young people to make responsible decisions about alcohol," said McCardell.

The American Medical Association is strongly against lowering the drinking age. The AMA says underage drinking is a factor in nearly all the leading causes of death for youth: automobile crashes, homicide, suicide and fatal injures.

Donald Seigler of the AMA says that millions of America's youth under age 21 are binge or heavy drinkers.

"There may well be brain damage and neurocognitive deficits from the level of drinking that our young people are doing. It affects their learning, their intellectual development," said Seigler.

Lawmakers in several states are attempting to lower the drinking age. Some have introduced bills that would lower the age for military personnel

"I feel if you are old enough to defend your country, you should be old enough to have the freedom to drink," said Maura Seed.

MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, supports the 21-and-up drinking age law because, they say, it saves lives, an estimated 25,000 saved since states began setting the age at 21. That is more than a 1,000 lives a year.

"I do not think they should lower the drinking age. Why? Because I think children at 18 are still children and I don't think they always use good judgment, and I think 21 is plenty old enough," said Connie Lewis, grandmother.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving also says that since the law was passed off-road fatalities have decreased. The group believes the keys to increasing the effectiveness of the law include limited retail and social access and increasing enforcement.

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