The Drinking Age: Part 2

Monday's column, sparked by news of the Amethyst Initiative, the proposal by 129 college presidents to discuss lowering the drinking age, brought some great responses.  I've reprinted many below (edited to save you time), and I thank you all for reading and taking the time to respond.


"The ultimate issue is respect for yourself and for others. We have lost that in America. To see Americans respecting each other you have to go back to the pre-legal-challenge days of the 1950s and 1960s. Common sense is gone."

Houston, Texas


"Keeping the legal drinking age at 21 is the nation's best policy. After all, it was raised from 18 for a reason. The University Presidents are just looking to absolve themselves from responsibility. The data is clear, that age 21 results in fewer negative statistics."

M. S.
Silver Spring, Maryland


"Forget all the science and forget the reasonable arguments. The main issue is "Personal Responsibility" and "Respect for others."  Without either or both, age doesn't make any difference, does it?"

Maynard B.


"I really enjoy your posts on life in these United States.  I'm a modestly well-known actor who has raised two kids to 18 and 25 respectively. The boy, now 18, attended parties over the last year where underage binge drinking was the norm. He thinks the other kids are insane to get so blasted to no point.

 I think the issue is completely different from cigarettes because of the nature of alcohol. It provides a chemical escape from reality (and usually lots of parental control issues) that nicotine doesn't. I think the real reason kids go nuts is the over-controlled and simplistic nature of parenting in the U.S. today. Banning them from R-rated movies, for example, makes no sense; there are wonderful R-rated movies out there, but you have to take the time to research them and risk some mistakes. (Gee, kind of like stocks? You have to put in the time? You have to recognize reality? Theories are great, but?) Hugh Grant movies are R-rated and wonderful. Our kids love Gladiator and Braveheart.

Lazy parenting enjoys simplistics. One young friend was allowed no R-rated movies, no overnight parties, was not allowed to drive until 16 and then was given a Maserati for his 16th birthday and promptly wrapped it around a telephone pole!  My wife's theory says that early on (starting at 2 and 3 and 4 years of age) lots of pleases and thank you's, sitting and talking at dinner, lots of socialization and partying with adults, lots of responsibility and high scholastic standards and then LOTS of freedom. The point is, it's not just the drinking, it's the parenting; teenage behavior is established by the parents when the child is 2 and 3 and 7.... By 18, it's waaay too late. Thanks for your column."



"I fully agree with what you wrote:

"The message he or she [the Surgeon General] should spread is this:  Alcohol is appropriate when consumed in moderation among responsible adults.  Alcohol abuse, by both young and old, is dangerous.''

I am from Quebec and the drinking age is 18.  When I was 16, my parents gave me a half glass of wine at lunchtime on Sunday.  (We still had family meals in the 1960s!).  We would talk then about alcohol and they would teach me the way to drink and how to avoid drinking too much.  They actually educated me on the subject and they took that particular responsibility very seriously.

I have a hard time believing that young adults can refrain from drinking until age 21.  Just ask the Canadian residents of U.S.-Canada border towns; bars are full of young Americans over the weekends.  I just don't know how they get back home and pass the border after a night on the town.  I assume they do what Quebecers have been doing for the last 20 years (since laws were passed to revoke permits of drivers caught under the influence of alcohol):  they have a designated driver.  Young people can surprise you.  They can be very responsible... if you give them the chance."

N. J.


"It's irresponsible of college presidents--people who are supposed to be leaders and example-setters for our children--to suggest lowering the drinking age.  This furthers the perception that academia is the land of left-leaning dreamers who don't know what a real job is.   I lost five classmates in high school when the drinking age was 18.  Lowering the drinking age didn't work then and it won't work now.   I agree that we need to take the same approach as we did with cigarettes.  Ban the ads on television.  Better educate us on the dangers."

R. G.
Ridgefield, Connecticut


"I am the child of parents who taught me, from a very young age, to drink responsibly. As early as my 10th birthday, my parents allowed me a little bit of Crème de Menthe liqueur on my ice cream on my birthday each year. By high school, they gave me a simple lecture: "We keep beer and wine coolers in the old refrigerator at all times. You know where the key to the liquor cabinet is (where the harder alcohol was). You and your friends are welcome to drink all you want. We will buy the alcohol for you.  Two conditions: you do it in our home under our supervision, and we collect all car keys at the door."
While I never took my parents up on the offer of the party, by the time I'd reached 21, my dad had bought me plenty of alcohol that I kept in my dorm room at college, and I'd ordered many a drink over dinner with him after football games. I'd drunk countless wine coolers and beer from the old refrigerator whenever I wanted one. And, I'd had many mixed drinks, including my mom's famous Bourbon Slush, at my parent's parties and at relative's weddings.

The result, reaching legal drinking age was no big deal. There was no binge drinking, there were no Jell-O shots, tequila shots, or any of the other bad alcohol related activities. I've never come even close to a DUI, and I definitely know when to say when. In short, the attitude towards drinking was instilled in me from a young age, and I learned to respect alcohol and its effects in the safety of my parent's' home, and had all the mystery of alcohol removed through prolonged, safe exposure to it.

Human nature is simple: the minute that you tell someone that they can't do something, it is the first thing that they will want to go out and do. This is especially true of alcohol. Denying alcohol during Prohibition only made it more valuable and sought after. The solution to binge drinking, drunken driving, and other alcohol behaviors is not denying them. It is exposing alcohol to people slowly, safely, and under controlled circumstances and making clear the dangers of abuse (i.e. DUIs, liver cirrhosis, alcohol poisoning, death, etc.). Give children education and choice, and I believe that they will act responsibly and grow up as I did: safe, happy, healthy, well-educated, and without DUIs, binge drinking, or jail time."
S. E.
San Diego, California


"I can't resist replying to this one. I am sure that if parents taught their children as I was taught--both the pleasure of a glass of wine with dinner and the understanding of how much we can drink safely--that the problems would be less. There is considerable evidence from social studies that families who take the time to eat dinner together in a relaxed and social atmosphere have fewer problems with binge drinking and drugs. Families now seem to have less time to spend with each other than we did and the Internet takes a lot of teenagers away from family social interaction. I think we take the education of the next generation too lightly in many cases and do not give them the ammunition they need for the world they will face when they emerge into their teenage years and beyond. The ability to sue rather than take responsibility for one's own actions is also a factor in the problems we face now as a society, anywhere in the "westernized" world.

My Dad was Irish and liked a drink in moderation. I had my first glass of watered wine at Christmas aged 10, nearly 50 years ago. I know this is anecdotal but my Dad was concerned to teach us how much was enough--one sherry at age 18!!--and was prepared to work with us so that we understood the dangers."



"I think the answer to the question of lowering the drinking age lies purely in market forces. If government were really looking to limit the use of alcohol by young people it would just continue to raise the state tax or federal tax on the item. Just recently Massachusetts raised the price of a pack of cigarettes by $1.00. Why not do the same with beer and liquor? Isn't drinking and its health effects on the same level as the health problems cigarettes cause? Are these impositions any different than the decision one must make with the price of gasoline, and how much one wants to drive their car?  The more you drive the more you pay. So with cigarettes it's now the more you smoke the more you pay. Let's try this with beer and alcohol. The more you drink the more you pay.
I find that emptying one's wallet is the best way to cause a change in behavior."
T. B.
Chicopee, Massachusetts

"I disagree with your assessment of the drinking age assessment. I have 22 years in law enforcement and am an adjunct professor teaching about juvenile delinquency. I spend a lot of time reviewing the statistics behind the stories--much like you spend a lot of time researching the statistics behind the stocks you recommend. I look to you for advice on stocks because you evaluate the technical and fundamental aspects of the stocks and recognize them much better than I ever could.

Mothers Against Drunk Drivers spend a lot of time looking at the technical and fundamental information about drunk driving too - the statistics. They want the age limit to remain at 21 to keep society safer. When the drinking age was 18, more than 50% of fatalities were caused by drunk drivers UNDER THE AGE OF 21! Since the drinking age was raised to 21 the statistics for under 21 drivers have dropped way off. Of course, if all parents acted like parents and taught their children responsibility, then we could eliminate a drinking age. But that isn't reality. There are enough poor parents and at-risk youth out there to increase the chances of children making bad choices with alcohol. A bad choice of alcohol and access to several thousand pounds of deadly weapon makes for a bad combination. Now is not the time to start lowering the drinking age. Fix the other problems and then we can address it.

One problem that I feel is not addressed enough (that you should consider addressing) is domestic violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Did you know that as much as 40% of women have been in involved in an abusive relationship?  Many don't know how to handle or escape from those relationships. Our society can address this problem by raising awareness about it."

G. P
New Jersey


"Stick to investments. This is a complex issue that really does not move markets. It may move emotions, and it may move parents, but no matter what we do, about the same number of young adults will die each year."

G. S.
Lenexa, Kansas

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"Here in Ontario, Canada the drinking age is 19 (lowered from 21 some years ago... same arguments used here as there in the US!!!). Political will and a majority government made the difference. While we were growing up (I'm 65) we would cross the border at Niagara Falls to go to "PeeWee's for Pizza" (that's what we told the immigration officers) because you could get a beer at 18 and no one really asked if you were 18 when you were actually 17 or even 16. None of us engaged in binge drinking.

My own children were used to having a taste of alcohol, and as they matured they could have a glass of wine at Sunday dinner if they wanted ... an Italian influence in our family. I think the problem is not at what age you can drink, but at what age you are taught to be responsible. Many factors come into play. If you drink and drive you lose your licence. At 18 or 19 that licence is very important. Here in Ontario you don't get to drive alone on highways, or at night for a long time after you pass the driver's licence test. If you get caught drinking while still on probation you lose it all! And I believe you can't reapply for 6 or 12 months. That is not an absolute deterrent, but it's a strong reason to be moderate.

We have pushed our education age down to 17-18 years old (and younger in many cases) for college and university. It is normal to spread one's wings at an early age. And if you can't get a legal beer, where you will be monitored for at least some modicum of sobriety, there will always be a party where there is no supervision and the beer is free or cheap. That encourages irresponsible drinking. I would rather have an opportunity to mold my children's drinking habits while I still have some authority over their actions ... at 21 they're long gone from home."

J. W.


"I think we should return the voting age to 21, and leave the drinking age at 21 and over. Also, I am against any return of the Draft unless Congress has declared war!
Let's return to our Constitution."

A. S.


"I am stunned that 129 of our allegedly best-educated minds, university chancellors and presidents, are advocating a pullback to age 18 for the legal drinking age. It is unfortunate but true; our scholars have a narrow view of the world outside their hallowed halls.
Do they honestly believe that lowering the drinking age will mitigate the problem?  How about exacerbate it!  At present, at least the freshmen and sophomores are less tempted, if for no other reason, than fear of reprisals from the police.
I am all for freedom, but I wouldn't hand a loaded gun to an eight year old and expect responsible behavior. What is binge drinking? It is irresponsible behavior, found mostly in our colleges.  And it isn't just minors doing it. There are plenty of 21 and 22 year olds binge drinking and acting stupid.  Lower the drinking age and you'll move the problem down to the high school level. There it will affect a much larger group of the population.
Here's a novel idea.  Get caught binge drinking and you're out! Expelled! Not welcome back.  Imagine if you practiced such errant behavior at a Baptist or Nazarene college. You would politely and quietly be asked to move on."

"I'm a recovering alcoholic for over 28 years. Not only have I reflected on my own personal younger days of destructive drinking, I've heard hundreds of other recovering alcoholics' stories ... the most dangerous and frightening being in their youngest days of drinking. The euphoric booze high on top of an already immature and inexperienced mind and a body that often is believed to be immortal is an often deadly cocktail. The adolescent thinks the bad stuff that happens, drunk driving, AIDS, etc. only happens to the other guy."

J. M.


"The drinking age in Michigan was lowered to 18 for a short period of time and it was a disaster.  The hazards were obvious so the legislature changed the law back to 21.  The change had allowed the older students to legally purchase alcohol for underclassmen.   I believe we should actively fight any change that encourages younger alcohol consumption."

Traverse City, Michigan


"I'm from the province of Quebec in Canada where the drinking age is 18. In the Canadian armed forces if you join at 17 like I did you can drink in the mess. If you're willing to take a bullet for your country nobody's going to tell you that you can't drink. I have many European friends as well as conservative friends from the neighbouring provinces and the US. I find that those kids who grow up with parents that are willing to coach them and give them wine at the table and treat them as adults act responsibly. Those parents and societies that try to control and deny end up creating kids with the craziest behaviours."

G. E.

"It is far better to teach the safe use of alcohol versus its prohibition.  Other countries of the free world such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Hong Kong have a legal minimum drinking age of 18.  France, Germany, Italy and Spain have a legal minimum age of 16.  All together they can't be wrong.
There is verified global scientific evidence proving the health benefits associated with the moderate consumption of alcohol. Starting young adults out with the negative connotation of prohibition leads them to a confused relationship with one of life's most simple ancient pleasures."
H. S.
Hollywood, Florida


"Excellent article as usual.  You're right, it's a lot harder to get a driver's license in Europe and I think the process here in the U.S. should be a lot tougher. I remember two 16-year old cousins from the Netherlands bragging about drinking (mostly beer) at parties and running their moped or bike into a canal or into a tree. They were not allowed to drive a car because of their ages, but both passed the driver's test for automobiles after a couple of tries and closer to the age of 20. 

Our three daughters always were offered a sip of beer or a sip of wine, from a young age on, and we'd educate them about the smell, taste and the crafting of beer and wine. One daughter wrote a report in high school about the process of viticulture, from soil to aging, from smelling to tasting. They never understood why people had to drink too much in college. They entered the drinking age in an adult way because we taught them.  But they got their driver's licenses too young; within a week of getting her driver's license, our youngest daughter was stopped for speeding with six kids in the car! 

In Europe, for various reasons, the temptation of drinking and driving (a car) just is not there until a later age. Lowering the drinking age to 18 in the U.S. should go with raising the driving age to 18 and increasing the difficulty in obtaining a driver's license. Then the rules should be toughened for drivers between 18 and 20, and if you get caught driving drunk, the license should be yanked for a year. But most of all, parents have to start educating their children about drinking and driving."
F. van B.
Winchester, Massachusetts


"I went to school in Washington, D.C. in 1963 and the drinking age was 18. In 1967 the government tried to raise the drinking age to 21 in the District and the alcohol lobby and students fought this. We also tried to get the voting age lowered to 18 since we were being drafted in the Vietnam War. In retrospect, 19 yrs of age might have been more appropriate because a lot of high school students are 18 and that year out gives a bit of separation from those who might otherwise be purchasing liquor for high school students. Ultimately though, I think a better effort in education, even providing controlled drinking on campus, perhaps a campus pub, would be better than the way things are. But more important, drinking in high school is the bigger problem, and besides education, significant fines--$500 or more for providing alcohol to minors--should be set and enforced. And penalties for drinking and driving should be severe and certain. When drivers start believing that they can lose their license, they'll be more apt to think a second time about drinking and driving."


"I grew up in Ohio when you could buy 3.2 beer at age 18 and all other alcohol at 21.   Yes you can get drunk on 3.2 beer, but it takes a serious effort to do so.  We also had college bars and clubs where we had our own music and entertainment.  Our soldiers could also enjoy a drink before leaving for Southeast Asia to defend our freedom. It was a good system."

J. W.


"Behavior (in this case, the consumption of some substance, be it alcohol, drugs, etc.) is a function of values. Values are, or perhaps more accurately, SHOULD be instilled by family first, teachers second, and lastly religious institutions. This is one of the failures of our present society. GOVERNMENT is not responsible for, nor should it be involved in, establishing values."


"A long time ago NJ and CT lowered the drinking age to 18 to match the then-current age in NY and NYC of 18.  The theory was that teenagers drove into NYC to drink and had accidents on the way home.  The drinking age became 18 in the tri-state area of NY-NJ-CT and fewer alcohol-related accidents among teenage drivers were expected.  The reality was just the opposite:  there were more alcohol-related accidents among teenage drivers in NJ and CT than before.  Eventually the drinking age was raised to 21 for the tri-state region. The reality was that lowering the drinking age increased accidents and increased fatal accidents among teenage drivers."
K. K.
Alexandria, Louisiana


The Mother of All Storms?

Moving on briefly to another current event, I've long found it useful to remember the following guidelines, in both regular life and investing.

  • Trouble tends to come from where you least expect it
  • Concern yourself least when others fear most.
  • Be brave to expect the crowd to be wrong.
  • Public opinion is the scarecrow of society.
  • Beware of fighting the last battle.

Consider the recently departed Hurricane Gustav.  New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin warned it would be "the storm of the century ... the mother of all storms."  It wasn't, of course, but he was fighting the last battle.  The evacuation of two million people was excessive.  Even brave people who wanted to stay in the safety of their homes couldn't.  But the government authorities, from FEMA to the National Guard to the Louisiana State Police and the New Orleans Police, all were concerned primarily with avoiding the catastrophe of Katrina (and proving to the national media that they were up to the task) ... and they did.  But at what cost?

In the stock market, similarly, investors typically fight the last battle.  Today, after a 10-month bear market, they are worried and nervous.  The fact that they haven't made any money all year, combined with an incessant diet of negative news regarding the economy, makes it hard for most investors to envision that a great bull market might be right around the corner.  It's easiest to be part of the crowd, to complain that your stocks are down and that the economy stinks and to wonder whether the next president will be able to pull us out of this mess.  Most investors aren't thinking of buying; they're worried that things will get worse!  And most investors will continue to think the same way even after the market has turned strongly up.  They'll stick with the crowd, and they'll stay safe.  But at what cost?


A Leading Biotech Stock

If you want to be a big winner in the market, you simply can't hang back with the crowd.  You've got to think for yourself, imagine alternative scenarios, notice what's happening outside the world of groupthink.  When you do, you'll find opportunities like Isis Pharmaceuticals (ISIS).

Isis earned a spot in Cabot Top Ten Report back on August 18, thanks to its strong performance.  Here's what Editor Michael Cintolo wrote.

"Pharmaceuticals are showing up in these pages with increasing frequency as investors, hungry for a little alpha, look to the big moves these companies can make when good news hits. Isis Pharmaceuticals works primarily with an RNA-based technology called antisense. Antisense drugs prevent cells from manufacturing specific proteins that are involved in disease. The technology has huge potential, and ... the company just got a boost when it swung to a small quarterly profit based in part on sales of Vitravene, an antisense drug used to treat cytomegalovirus retinitis in people with AIDS. With an anti-cholesterol drug in Phase III trials and five other drugs in Phase II trials, the company looks to be due for some investor-pleasing headlines."

Back when Mike wrote that, the stock had jumped from 16 to 19 on the good news about Vitravene.  Since then, it's pulled back in a calm and controlled way to 17 1/2.  Technically, it's a very promising pattern.

Fundamentally, my examination of the company reveals triple digit growth of revenues in recent quarters (a common hallmark of big winners ... although part of that is from one-time milestone payments) and analysts have recently increased their earnings estimates for the company for both 2008 and 2009.  Like many fast-growing companies with great potential, ISIS is expensive; its current PE ratio is 78.  But that's how it is with the best growth companies!

Bottom line, ISIS looks attractive from both a technical and fundamental perspective.  The fly in the ointment remains the general stock market, which is still building a bottom.


Editor's Note: Isis Pharmaceuticals may not appear here again but it will be mentioned in every issue of Cabot Top Ten Report until we recommend selling.  And if you like stocks like ISIS you'll like a lot of the stocks in Cabot Top Ten Report!  Every Monday, subscribers receive fundamental and technical analysis on ten top-performing stocks, as well as expert advice on recommended buying ranges.  If you're in the market for fast-growing stocks, there's no better advisory than Cabot Top Ten Report, and there's no better time to begin than now.  To get started with your no-risk trial subscription, simply click the link below.

Yours in pursuit of wisdom and wealth,

Timothy Lutts
Cabot Wealth Advisory


Timothy Lutts can be found on Google Plus.

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