Are Young People Responsible for Drinking?
In the criminal justice system young people are increasingly being
held responsible for their actions and punished as adults. For example,
two brothers who were aged 12 and 13 were found guilty of first
degree murder of their father and were convicted and treated as
adult offenders by the state of Florida. Similarly, although Lee
Malvo was 17 at the time at the time of a murder spree that killed
10 people, prosecutors are trying him as an adult and will probably
seek the death penalty. 1
According to the United States Supreme Court, young people over
the age of 16 can be held responsible for their actions and are
eligible for the death penalty.
On the other hand, the assumption underlying current alcohol policies
in the U.S., as well as recent lawsuits against alcohol producers,
is that young people are too immature to assume full responsibility
for their own actions.
So the question is this: How can a 12- or 15-year-old be responsible
for murder but a 20-year-old adult isn’t responsible for choosing
to consume a drink of alcoholic beverage?
Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that that only by assuming
the 20-year-old adult is helpless can money be extracted from alcohol
- 1. Colb, Sherry F. A lawsuit against
“big alcohol” for advertising to underage drinkers:
Are minors accountable for their actions? FindLaw’s Legal
Commentary. (http://writ.news.findlaw.com), 12-3-03.
- Anheuser-Busch, Miller face California suit. Financial Times
- Berk, C.C. Alcohol industry faces suit alleging marketing to teens.
Wall Street Journal, 11-21-03.
- Brown-Forman/underage lawsuit - 2; Diageo also a defendant. Dow
Jones Newswire, 11-26-03; alcohol industry suit - 3: Defendant Beer
Institute comment. Dow Jones Newswire, 11-26-03.
- California group sues Anheuser-Busch, Miller. USA Today,
- Flass, R. and Jensen, T. Brewers hit with “alcopops”
lawsuit. Adweek, 2-4-04.
- Lawsuit claims companies market alcohol to kids. Kansas City
- Lawton, C., and Wilke, J.R. Suit alleges alcohol industry targets
underage drinkers. Wall Street Journal, 11-28-03.
- Schoenberger, R. Underage drinking provokes suit. Courier
- Teinowitz, I. Marketers blast charges in alcohol suit: Diageo,
others refute idea they go after teens. Advertising Age,
- Teinowitz, I. $4 billion lawsuit filed against beer giants: Anheuser-Busch
and SABMiller charged with advertising to minors. AdAge,
- Weintraub, M. California group sues top U.S. brewers. Reuters,