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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Troubling Stats on Underage Drinking

As we engage in the biennial debate about the beer tax, we tend to separate out into camps who refuse to look at the issues of the other side. I will stipulate at the outset that while I think the beer tax is absolutely the wrong prescription for underage drinking, that doesn't mean I'm cool with underage drinking.

There's an article in the paper today about binge drinking among underage Oregon teens, and the problem is very bad. According to a recent survey of Oregon 11th graders, we have a problem:
  • Almost half of Oregon's 11th-graders said they drank alcohol in the previous month.
  • Nearly 30 percent of eighth-graders said they drank in the previous month, according to the same survey.
  • Oregon eighth-graders are 76 percent more likely than the U.S. average to drink alcohol.
  • Eighth-grade girls now drink more than 8th-grade boys.
  • More than 10 percent of eighth-graders taking a 2007 national survey said they downed at least five alcoholic drinks in a sitting in the previous week. That rose to nearly 22 percent of 10th-graders and 26 percent of 12th-graders.
The article suggests that liquor is the biggest danger, but this doesn't mean the beer community doesn't have a role to play. Any group who produces or promotes alcohol has a responsibility to be more engaged in the effort to stop underage drinking. Craft brewing is about the craft of brewing, not the hooch. They're trying to produce malty works of art, not adolescent alcohol delivery systems. This is exactly why they can play a positive role--craft brewing can highlight that the joy is in the flavor, not the buzz.

We can also get active in supporting efforts like these:
Health officials and nonprofits have launched a host of efforts to warn kids and parents about the risks of binge drinking. In November, a task force presented Gov. Ted Kulongoski a five-year plan to fight underage drinking in Oregon, which called for more than $15 million in efforts, including programs to prevent youth drinking and addiction treatment.
What Oregon needs is a healthy culture of moderation, not an abstinence and binge cycle. I have always felt that Oregon craft breweries contributed to a healthy orientation toward drink, but obviously, there's work to do. This is a problem we all need to address.


  1. What I enjoy most about the Portland and Oregon brewpub/pub scene is exactly that I feel it creates a healthy drinking culture. I rarely see obvious binge drinking in such places and pubs that have lots of natural light, encourage kids and serve quality beer I think put alcohol in the appropriate place: in a public and social setting. I hope my children will grow up with a healthy attitude toward drinking if they see it as moderate, occasional and social. In other words, I hope the behavior they see in me and in other Oregonian pub-goers provides a positive model for them to emulate.

    That said, I think Oregon craft brewers could/should do more to address the problem of under-age drinking and binge drinking in general.

  2. Jeff and Patrick: It's a very nice thought in principle; do you have any suggestions as to what Oregon craft brewers might realistically be able to do to effectively address the problem of under-age and binge drinking?

  3. I'm always reluctant to offer suggestions lest I step on the toes of the Brewers Guild, but what the hell. If I were advising the Guild, I'd say Oregon brewers should be vocal and public about their support of reducing underage drinking. They could publically support the Governor's plan, to begin with. They might consider a special event to promote awareness during craft brewer's month. And--and here's where I'm likely really stepping on toes--I would offer to work with the legislature on a modest excise tax increase (double it, say?) where all the funds are restricted and go to fighting a series of causes like underage drinking, alcoholism, and so on.

    This is really a bigger discussion than a blogger can initiate, but thems some thoughts.

  4. I'll drink to a healthy drinking culture and protecting the children!

    Now... Lets get back to glorifying beer on the public and child accessible Internet!

    Ah, yes! I can smell the hypocrisy...


  5. Underage Drinking. Feel free to act all the parts out yourself.

    Underage kid #1: Dude, we've got, like $10 and 45 cents. Let's go find someone to buy beer for us.

    Underage kid #2: Yeah, I've only had, like, one beer this's, like, totally lame. I'm not going to look cool enough to score chicks if we don't get some more brewskies.

    [they head to F**D Me**rs. Enter Hobo]

    Hobo: *belch*

    Underage kid #1: Hey dude, will you buy us some beers? You can get yourself something too.

    Hobo: Sssure...*burp*...what'cha...*belch*...what'cha want?

    Underage kid #2: Dude, we've got $10.45, let's get some Dead Guy Ale.

    Underage kid #1: What the hell are you talking about, that's like 10 bucks a sixer?!

    Hobo: *belch* Hey! Leave some for me...*burp*

    Underage kid #2: Ahh hell, you're right...let's get some Widmer then!

    Underage kid #1: Dude, you gotta be sh*ttin' me. That's like like 9 f*ckin' bucks!

    Underage kid #2: Hmm, Bridgeport IPA?

    Underage kid #1: At least 8 and we only get 6...dude, we want to get drunk, not buzzed.

    Underage kid #2: Okay, okay. Let's get a half-rack of Bud then. What's that, like 8 bucks? Dude, and we get 6 beers a piece!

    Underage kid #1: Rock on man, rock on. And there's enough left over for our friend.

    Hobo: Yeah, Nightrain...*belch*...oh baby!

  6. Um . . . it's not uncommon for teenagers to have more discretionary income than a lot of adults. Ever notice how the majority of commercials/ads cater to that market and age group?

  7. Anonymoose gives the underage drinking crowd far too much credit for their ability to discern quality and value… they neither care what they drink nor how much it costs (specifically), so long as it's cheap and plentiful (and/or easily accessible - ie, parent's liquor cabinet). That's why the vast majority of alcohol consumed by minors is swill - whether beer, wine or spirits.

    I would take a decidedly different approach… drop the age of legal purchase to 19 (steal some of Canada's thunder), and the age of legal consumption to 16 - decriminalizing the serving of alcohol to minors by adults, but imposing stiff fines on the adults if that minor becomes intoxicated (in public, of course… good luck policing it in homes). I would also integrate beer and wine tastings (maybe even spirits) into home economics classes, educating in both moderation and culinary arts. This both destigmatizes consumption, as well as educates about quality - making the cheap stuff less desirable.

    You'll always have your party-hardy crowd, always looking for the next fix… they're not "alcoholics," they're "addicts" - in every sense of the word; no amount of legislation is going to combat that. For the rest of their "peers," teach them not to say no, but perhaps say "not so much…" they're going to learn that lesson on their own eventually; why not in a structured environment where they don't feel pressured to "have another?"

    Seems to work just fine in Europe…

  8. i'm with you anónimo.

    my point was that, unless underage drinkers have become more sophisticated since i was one, they are not purposefully out buying expensive craft beers. if they are drinking craft beers, then it's most likely because they stole them from their parents (like you do with liquor when you're that age).

    i can't remember ever looking at our pool of measly shillings and thinking that we wanted 6 beers instead of 12 - or even 24 in some cases (haha, what a great pun).

    disposable income? jesus, my step-dad was charging me rent at 15 and i only made $3.85 an hour (of course, now i'm aging myself).

    the way i look at it, if craft breweries decide to combat underage drinking - in any way shape or form - it's really just grabbing at low-hanging fruit. it's a win-win for them. parents and the media think they're doing the right thing and they don't have to worry about their sales sliding cause teenagers are not buying their beer anyway.

  9. anónimo . . . guess you haven't heard, but Europe is making great strides to impose an age limit on all forms of drinking because teen binge drinking has gotten out of control in some countries including France and England. Seems that the idea of European drinkers being more responsible is purely a myth and not at all true.

  10. I think the comments about social drinking with kids around is the best way to show others what responsible drinking is all about. It's not a panacea, but it is the only real demonstration of a positive approach to the use of alcohol.

    As to the tax and appropriating it for the programs suggested, the idea, if not the method, has merit. First, I support an excise tax increase regardless of using it for these purposes. I just need to get that on the table. (not, by the way, the scale of the current proposal). I think the Guild and/or other responsible parties should develop a program that they fund through member dues or some other mechanism. That way, the Guild controls the money and the program.
    Designated tax receipts for specific programs always sounds good, until you really start looking at the accounting or budgets get tight. Then, legislators determine that it's a good idea to use certain taxes for things they were not meant for. Further disclosure, I have no problem with taxes per se or increases per se. I just find the whole idea of the "user fee" tax to be bad policy.

  11. Then, legislators determine that it's a good idea to use certain taxes for things they were not meant for.

    I agree in general, too. The thing is, the legislature is clearly just looking to scapegoat brewers as a way of milking a cash cow. If you're going to make the argument that breweries are such a social drain, I say fine, then put the money from the taxes into remediating those costs. But don't demonize an industry just for the purpose of scoring some easy cash.

  12. "…guess you haven't heard, but Europe is making great strides to impose an age limit on all forms of drinking because teen binge drinking has gotten out of control…"

    I hadn't heard, but it doesn't surprise me… the culture of mass consumption in general - be it food, drink or "fun" - has been spreading like a wildfire on these shores for a while, it was only a matter of time before the rest of the developed world wanted to get their share.

    Cultures which have it too good for too long inevitably implode under their own sense of entitlement… this is simply history repeating itself.

    Sit back and enjoy the bonfire,

  13. I don't think anybody should take the results of this survey to seriously. I remember just about everybody in my class exagerated or lied on these types of surveys, I don't think they are accurate at all.

  14. Agreed.. not accurate at all. Then after the survey all the kids ask each other what they put down...

    "Dude, I had like 3 whole fifths this week, beat that!".

    "So man, I had like 10 Jooses, eat me".

    "Well I had a 12-pack of Mojitos w/ my girlfriends so kiss off!".

    And all along all 3 are full of it.

    Brewers, Distillers.. etc. need not to a thing to curb underage drinking.

    Parents must step up, and it's the parents that are creating this mess of terrible kids. More parents today condone it instead of educate about it. Darn you Smith and Wesson for killing so many people each year!