The drinking age in Ontario has been a point of contention for decades, with the age originally being lowered to 18 from 21 in 1971, but then raised to 19 in 1979, according to this article by the Toronto Star.
So, should the drinking age in Ontario be lowered to 18, or should it remain the same as it is now?
Old enough to drive, vote and kill for our country, but not to enjoy a brewski
The drinking age should be lowered. There are several generic arguments one can make in this direction.
One line of argument simply uses the legality of decisions 18 year olds are already allowed to make.
To begin, let’s consider what you are allowed to do by the time you’re 18. You’re allowed to vote. You’re allowed to enlist in the military. You’re allowed to make the decision to encumber yourself with exorbitant amounts of student loans and go off to school. You’re allowed to drive (with a license, that is).
All of these decisions assume a significant degree of maturity and, in effect, treat you as if you are an adult. The consequences of these decisions are mighty, but as a society we still understand that 18 year olds ought to be able to undertake them. A career in the military can translate to any number of life altering events, student loans stay along for a bit longer than a hangover, and you’re way more likely to die driving cars than from anything else. If you’re considered mature enough to do these things under the law, who can say that you’re not mature enough to have a brew with your burger?
Moreover, prohibiting people from buying alcohol until they’re 18 doesn’t stop them from consuming it.
Some people argue that consuming alcohol at a young age can lead to addiction problems and criminal behaviour. However, this seems to be putting the cart before the horse; if someone gets addicted to alcohol, the inclination was likely already there. Moreover, as we discussed, it’s not like someone who is prone to addiction problems can’t get their hands on alcohol if they wanted it.
As for the question of social deviance being caused by under-age drinking, this can be viewed as an empirical one, and the statistics simply show that you can’t reduce criminality simply to underage drinking. A recent meta analysis of the “social and medical impact of drinking age and health problems has shown that there is no association between a lower drinking age and indicators of problems such as criminality”.
In the U.S. and Canada, one of the major reasons for raising the minimum drinking age was to fight against drunk driving, as it was believed that a higher drinking age would mean less drunk drivers on the road. That assessment is probably true, but there are key trends to consider in this assessment.
In the U.S., with its outright tyrannical drinking age of 21, the rates of traffic accidents involving alcohol have fallen much slower than the rates in parts of Europe with a drinking age of 18, such as Germany. These large scale trends suggest that getting rid of impaired driving is more complicated than merely waiting for people to get older before they can drink.
Unfortunately, it is true that traffic fatalities shoot up during the age cohorts that achieve the minimum legal age for drinking. However, this pattern is almost inevitable, and it follows whether the drinking age is 18 or 21.
Thus, since the main argument to increase the minimum drinking age doesn’t exactly hold water, we ought to consider how absurd it is that we prohibit 18 year olds from legally drinking.
A lower drinking age won’t work in Ontario
As your friend who just got back from Italy will eagerly tell you, you can walk down any street in Milan and see a baby drinking wine straight out of the bottle. Okay, so maybe that’s stretching the point, but you get what I mean. Other countries, specifically in Europe , have looser drinking restrictions in comparison to Ontario. In my opinion, that’s because the culture surrounding drinking in these countries is vastly different.
European teenagers are taught from a young age how to consume alcohol and how to do it properly. In Greece, there is no drinking age if you are drinking in private, but in order to drink in public you must be 18 years of age. In an article by the CBC, Luis Rufo, a Barcelona-born immigrant to Calgary explains, “that in Spain, where the legal drinking age limit is 16, alcohol and food is paired together, which he says makes imbibing safer.” He exclaimed his frustrations over what he calls “uncivilized” drinking laws in Canada.
A study by the Boston University Medical Center states that “Italian youths whose parents allowed them to have alcohol with meals while they were growing up are less likely to develop harmful drinking patterns in the future.”
If I grew up in a culture where a drink at dinnertime was not only permitted but encouraged, I would know a lot more about my limits, pacing myself, and how to enjoy drinking without going over-the-top. But here in Ontario, where drinking is not only seen as illegal for those underage, but as morally questionable for those of drinking age, ironically enough binge-drinking is far more likely to occur.
It’s the mentality of “Hey, if I’m going to do something frowned upon by my society, I might as well go all out.
According to a Statistics Canada report from 2008, binge drinking spikes in the 18-24 age group for both males and females. This is when most young people are being exposed to drinking for the first time, at least in a legal sense. Those raised without previous knowledge or experience on drinking, may overdo it.
Whereas in Europe, according to the CBC, “some countries differentiate between consuming alcohol and purchasing alcohol as well as among types of alcohol when setting their minimum age.” Ontario strictly prohibits the drinking of alcohol by anyone under the age of 19.
In Quebec, however, the laws are different from those of their Western neighbour. In order to legally purchase alcohol, you must be at least 18 years of age, but, you can legally drink at 17 as long as it’s while under the supervision of a parent in their residence.
Maybe Ontario lawmakers can learn a thing or two from Quebec. In order to responsibly lower the drinking age in Ontario to 18, the drinking culture needs to change. But even then, I doubt we’ll see babies drinking wine straight out of the bottle on Rideau Street anytime soon.