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The national drinking age is too damn high!
Packing as much alcohol as five light beers and the same amount of caffeine as two cups of coffee, in recent weeks Four Loko has been attributed to several highly publicized cases of alcohol poisoning, binge drinking, and suicide. According to the FDA, the mixture of caffeine and alcohol in drinks like Four Loko, Joose, and Moonshot leads to more dangerous drinking behaviors, especially in teens and college students. After many states had already banned alcoholic energy drinks, the FDA ruled on Nov. 17 that the added caffeine is an “unsafe food additive,” effectively forcing drink makers to remove the caffeine from their products.
This decision is both shortsighted and impractical. Banning Four Loko will do nothing to curb binge drinking and consumers can easily recreate the effects of these beverages with mixed drinks containing similar amounts of alcohol and caffeine. The FDA is confusing a symptom of the problem of dangerous underage drinking with its cause. Underage students drank to excess long before Four Loko appeared on the market, and will continue to drink as long as there is a disparity between the culture of drinking on college campuses and the country’s national drinking age.
University presidents across the country have long seen the wisdom in lowering the drinking age. The presidents of Syracuse University, Pomona College and Ohio State University, and almost 100 other colleges, have all encouraged lowering the drinking age from 21. They say it contributes to a culture of clandestine binge drinking that occurs mainly behind closed doors. A study published by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that the highest rates of consumption are found in university-owned dormitories and housing. Fear of police and campus safety officers drives students to consume more alcohol at quicker rates than they might otherwise. The rates of assault, sexual assault, and injury as a result of alcohol consumption are alarmingly higher when binge drinking is involved.
The FDA’s recent ban on the sale of Four Loko has brought the issue of alcohol consumption on college campuses back into the national spotlight. But that spotlight has shined on a very specific product instead of the underlying issue driving dangerous drinking behaviors. If government agencies or college administrators are serious about addressing the problem of underage binge drinking, they should advocate for reopening the debate on lowering the national drinking age.