NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 5, 2004

Federal government reports on the comparison of drinking habits between European and American teenagers are flawed, says Reason magazine.

Proponents of raising the drinking age continually cite a 2001 study from the U.S. Department of Justice that concluded Europe's liberal drinking laws contributed to more insobriety among European teenagers than the stricter standards for American teenagers. Yet, the study had flaws:

  • It was not peer-reviewed by other researchers before it was published, and it used outdated data and excluded two major European countries: France and Germany.
  • The numbers the DOJ used do not match the claims of its advocates; when comparing the United States to Southern Europe, the report revealed that 21 percent of American teens were drunk over a 30-day time period compared to only 13 percent of European teens.
  • More than half of the American teenagers who reported consuming alcohol had gotten drunk, compared to less than 25 percent of their European counterparts.
  • Furthermore, a report by the Transportation Department claims that raising the drinking age from 18 to 21 saved 927 lives in 2001, but observers argue that a claim that specific cannot be made without knowing what would have happened without rising the drinking age.

In fact, many studies cannot confirm a cause-and-effect relationship between raising the drinking age and reducing alcohol-related fatalities, although some studies confirm that a few alcohol-related fatalities have shifted from the 18-21 age group to the 21-24 age group.

Reason contends that the federal government's claim that the drinking age change has been as successful as the polio vaccine is simply flawed and "calls into question the reliability of potential life-saving information."

Source: David J. Hanson and Matt Walcoff, "Age of Propaganda," Reason, October 2004.


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