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Stand up to big booze

By Jonathan J. Ariel - posted Thursday, 30 January 2014

Former Professor of Medicine at the world-class Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and the incoming chief of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Nicholas Talley, is petitioning for the legal drinking age to be raised from 18 to 20 years of age.

And about time too.

His comments echo those of last year's Australian of the Year Ita Buttrose for a trial increase of the drinking age to 21 as well as voices from the physicians union, the Australian Medical Association, seeking (not unreasonably) a national debate on the issue.


Professor Talley reflected the mood of many earlier this week when he said that while what NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell was promising in order to fight the epidemic of drinking was "good", much more was required to solve this complex problem. What is needed is a revolution against the nation's booze-soaked "culture".

He could have added that the whole debate is bastardised, mainly by the media, when it calls "drinking" in effect, alcoholism, a "culture", when it is in fact a disease. Take ABC 702 in Sydney, for example. This leftist radio station targeted smugly at "thinking" people has for years heavily promoted abstinence in July by calling for listeners to abide by a "Dry July". Are listeners to interpret this call as meaning that it's "ok" to drink up and heaven forbid, get wasted in the eleven other months of the year? Sure sounds like it.

Professor Talley's call for a rise in the drinking age has been examined comprehensively, albeit overseas.

It so happens that Alexander C. Wagenaar, PhD and Traci L. Toomey, PhD researchers at the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota – a mere 140 kms away from where Talley used to research gastroenterology at the Mayo–dredged four databases (published from 1960-99) that inquired into the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) and identified 241empirical analyses, which they assiduously reviewed.

The findings are jaw dropping:

  • 33% of the studies found an inverse relationship between the MLDA and alcohol consumption; and
  • 58% found a higher MLDA related to decreased traffic crashes.

That is, the lower the legal age to drink,the more tends to be drunk. And, the higher the legal age to drink, the less road traffic crashes take place.

The argument about elevating the MLDA in the United States is the most well trodden of alcohol control policies, the aim of which is to lower alcohol consumptionand its associated problems, mostlyamong youth.

Following prohibition, most states in the republic established an age-21 MLDA. During the early 1970s, a trend toward lowering the MLDA to age 18, 19 or 20 began, aping a lowering of the voting age.

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About the Author

Jonathan J. Ariel is an economist and financial analyst. He holds a MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. He can be contacted at

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