If there should be no alcohol in public places until aged 21
“Teen who killed five admitted drink-driving 'all the time'”. The Age Victoria online publication of November 14, 2012 screamed this headline. The then 19 year old Steven Johnstone's VicRoads' admitted to his friends that he drove in an inebriated state all the time. The news article further states that just after midnight in Mill Park on January 17, 2010, Steven was speeding in his car along with five passengers. While driving, he ignored the red lights and was also talking on the mobile phone. It was at this stage that he lost control of the car which crashed with a big tree instantly killing 5 passengers. http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/teen-who-killed-five-admitted-drinkdriving-all-the-time20121113 29adp.html#ixzz3HN2V1LOM.
The tragic incident described in the preceding paragraph is only one of the numerous unfortunate accidents that have occurred on account of alcohol abuse by a teenager. This is one of the reasons why there has been a lot of clamor for raising the permissible drinking age to 21 as against 18 which has been prevalent in various states of Australia. There are pressing reasons behind the increased pressure from various section of the society to get this law enacted. Can a distinction really be drawn between the onerous consequences of alcohol consumption in private place versus the public place? The most obvious reasons for not allowing the usage of alcohol by people under the age 21 are in public places manifolds. In the coolspot.gov, it has been very aptly summarized that fatal crashes which involves teens under the age of 21 are twice in comparison to people who are 21 and above. Further, 4 out of 10 teens who drown have been under the influence of alcohol. Furthermore, underage drinking has also been linked with deaths and injuries from burns, falls, alcohol poisoning, and suicide. http://www.thecoolspot.gov/too_much4.asp.
The Government of Western Australia, Department for Communities Office for Youth, Drug and Alcohol Office published an online booklet titled “Young People and Alcohol”. On page 8 of the foregoing booklet, it has been stated that “Adolescence is a critical period in a young person’s development towards adulthood. What they learn during their teenage years, and how they learn it, can set the young person’s path for later life. Drinking in adolescence can be harmful to a young person’s physical development, particularly brain development. Alcohol consumption during this time can bring about learning difficulties, memory problems, mental health issues and other problems later in life”. (“Young People and Alcohol” 6)
The foregoing publication further states that “Alcohol is a depressant that affects the body’s central nervous system. Different parts of the brain develop at different rates as people grow, and depending on whether they are male or female. The pre-frontal cortex, which houses the part of the brain that controls rational thinking, does not mature until about the age of 19 and only fully matures around the age of 21 in women and 28 in men. So damage to this part of the brain during its development can have lifelong consequences for memory, personality and behavior”. (“Young People and Alcohol” 8)
Furthermore, the publication highlights that “Binge drinking (drinking at harmful levels on any single occasion) is common in Australia and among young people. It can increase the likelihood of risky behaviors, including driving under the influence, physical violence and unsafe sex. It’s also associated with mental health issues such as negative self image, low self-esteem, and depression and relationship difficulties. (“Young and Alcohol” 9)
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of United States of America published a fact sheet on under aged drinking. It, inter alia, stated that “Alcohol use by persons under age 21 years is a major public health problem. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking” Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2007.) Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States, more than tobacco and illicit drugs, and is responsible for more than 4,300 annual deaths among underage youth (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI). Atlanta, GA: CDC.) Although drinking by persons under the age of 21 is illegal, people aged 12 to 20 years drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States.3 More than 90% of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinks.3 On average, underage drinkers consume more drinks per drinking occasion than adult drinkers. (Bonnie RJ and O’Connell ME, editors. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, Reducing Underage Drinking: “A Collective Responsibility Committee on Developing a Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Underage Drinking”. Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2004.) In 2010, there were approximately 189,000 emergency rooms visits by persons under age 21 for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. The DAWN Report: Highlights of the 2010 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) Findings on Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits Rockville, MD; 2012.). (Retrieved from cdc.gov).
Whist the foregoing is the findings for the United States of America, a very clear comparison can be drawn between the issues faced in Australia and the United States of America, especially with respect to the issue under consideration.
In light of the above, if legislation is enacted which prohibits/bans consumption of alcohol by until aged 21; there will be certain immediate advantages. The biggest advantage of disallowing alcohol at public place until 21 years of age would be reduction and/or rather complete elimination of accidents on account of alcohol abuse by teenagers less than 21 years of age. This will definitely lead to a heightened sense of safety vis-à-vis driving. The stories of street fights and the consequent violence under the influence of alcohol are not unheard off. Any legislation which bans alcohol consumption in public places will definitely lead to a reduction in violence resulting from such fights. Drunken teenagers often find themselves on the wrong side of law. They may indulge in shop lifting and/or other petty robberies. They may also cause destruction of general public properties. Therefore, if there is no alcohol in public places until the age of 21 is reached, it will definitely lead to a reduction in the petty crime rates. Further, it is often seen that teenagers who consume alcohol also indulge in other substance abuse. Banning alcohol in public places would also help prevent other kind of substance abuse.
In order to limit the ill effect of alcohol on people under the age of 21, alcohol should not only be banned in public places, but it should also not be allowed in what is legally known as licensed premises like pubs, night clubs, sporting clubs, liquor stores, restaurants, other venue or area covered by special license (example, occasional or special facility license) (Section 3 of the Liquor Control Act, 1988). The definition of what amounts to “public place” and “licensed public place” should be streamlined specifically with reference to people under 21 years of age so as to effectively tackle this issue and prevent any kind of usage of alcohol until the age of 21 is reached.