Underage Drinking Issues

by Daniel Cucher

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse released a 145 page study claiming that children drink 25 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States. In response to this shocking statistic, CASA recommends higher alcohol taxes, a ban on television alcohol advertising and that the White House Office of Drug Control Policy include alcohol in its media campaigns. The report is titled "Teen Tipplers: America's Underage Drinking Epidemic," and it is the most recent propaganda to come out of America's army of misguided moralists.

In its attempt to create national outrage at underage drinking, CASA has drastically inflated the actual figures. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, which conducted the survey, underage drinkers account for not 25 percent, but 11.4 percent of all alcohol consumption in the United States. So how can CASA cite this survey and so dramatically misrepresent its findings? The group failed to correct for the disproportionate number of teens sampled in the survey. While 12- to 20-year-aids represent only 16 percent of the U.S. population, teens accounted for 38 percent of those surveyed. Thus, the percentage of underage drinkers in the country is actually less than half of what CASA reports.

Essentially, the alcoholic beverage industry is enduring the same kind of attack that the tobacco industry has fought for years. And although I don't expect billion-dollar lawsuits against brewers and distilleries, I foresee television ads aimed at discouraging underage drinking -- and I have a big problem with this.

We've seen how government-manipulating, public-interest organizations play with statistics to justify their existence, and it's time taxpayers stop paying for their expensive advertising spots. I don't believe for a moment that anti-smoking ads will prove effective in the long run. And I'm even willing to accept that the ads, which make smoking appear disgusting and unfashionable, may influence a few children. Anti-smoking ads only indicate a social trend -- they do not mediate it. After a while, the social stigmatization of smokers will climax, then gradually soften. And all along, people wil1 simply do as they please, regardless of how their vices are depicted on TV.

When drug and alcohol prevention organizations demonize the objects of their dissent, they draw a dishonest line between the people who use it and the people who don't. Smokers are bad. Drinkers kill. Be good. Be pure and sober.

If America wants its children to not drink and smoke, it needs to teach them these values in the home. Launching a media campaign to quell teen alcohol abuse is redundant: Underage drinking is illegal, thus it is officially condemned. Television ads will not inform anyone who doesn't already know the law, nor will they effectively discourage the activity. And because ads must answer the question "Why shouldn't teens drink?" they will censure drinking, thereby maligning the majority of the American public that drinks responsibly.

By suggesting that the government place a ban on television alcohol advertising, CASA makes a scapegoat of the media, and its means are equally cliched: "Oh the children! Won't you please think of the children?" Where does it stop? Shall we also ban contraceptive ads in the interest of teen abstinence? And while we're at it, why not ban reruns of "Cheers?"

No parent or government organization can completely shield children from negative influences. Parents must educate their children to deal appropriately with these influences and make the right decisions. Censoring ads is a futile attempt to cover children's eyes; they are more influenced by their social interactions than by the media. Creating ads to oppose temptation falls on deaf ears if children don't hear it first at home, and ads do nothing to reinforce values already instilled by parents. The ads are a waste of taxpayer money, and they exemplify the government's habit of putting its hand where it doesn't belong.

Every once in a while, the public lashes out at one of its vices. This is probably a good thing: it keeps us in check, reminds us not to function as complete hedonists. But when government organizations pick up the momentum and preach to us, they step out of line.

When the public wants to formally decry an activity, it petitions and votes to enact ordinances against it. Public smoking bans are perfectly acceptable forms of substance-use regulation; they are by public choice.

Dictating how people should handle their personal freedoms is not the government's role. And it is especially not the role of the government to lecture to children about the dangers of consuming legal substances. Money wasted on governmental moralizing should be more effectively spent.


Daniel Cucher is a columnist at the Arizona Daily Wildcat, the student newspaper of the University of Arizona. This column was published on February 28, 2002.