• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Tuesday 18th May, 2010

US takes the inside track on underage drinking

Alcohol consumption in the US is considered to be less extreme than among the other Western developed nations – possibly thanks in part to the legacy of President Ronald Reagan who raised the minimum drinking age to 21 and thereby certainly reduced the number of deaths caused by drink driving. [See: The alcohol's a reality - but so are the saved lives]The situation in the US is also made somewhat clearer by the Alcohol Policy Information System (APIS) provided free and online by the federal government under the auspices of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.APIS details alcohol policy in all 50 states alongside information about taxation a combination that is becoming the subject of increasing interest and debate in the UK.The regularly updated APIS site acts as a barometer of US policy, and in recent years it has extended its coverage to legislation introduced in eight states to curb the "internal possession" of alcohol.Crimes and misdemeanors associated with internal possession are a response to the police's lack of power to act when called upon to break up parties of under-age drinkers. It used to be difficult to intervene simply because young people were known to be in a place where alcohol was being consumed – but less so since they can now be tested for the presence of alcohol in the body much as if they were under suspicion of drink-driving. Typically, US laws against alcohol consumption by young people are much stronger than elsewhere in the world. Most states have a lower age limit of 21, and it has become routine to ask for identification before serving alcohol.The effects of this more rigid approach are disputed, although it appears that alcohol consumption in the US is lower than in other Western economically developed nations.[For more on the alcohol debate in times of spending cuts and tax rises, see Climbing on the wagon the Wagenaar way and Who needs war when we have alcohol?]

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