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I can assure you that this tragic situation has not gone unnoticed in the
Department of Health and Human Services. For example, in 1979 the first

Surgeon General's Report, Healthy People was published establishing broad

goals to improve the health of the Nation by 1990 which included reducing

deaths among those age 15-24. This report noted that motor vehicle accidents

were the #1 cause of mortality for this age

accounting for 37% of all


In follow-up to that report, Promoting Health/Preventing Disease was issued setting specific objectives in 15 priority areas to realize these national goals. The adverse consequences of misuse of alcohol and drugs is one of the fifteen priority areas which we are actively seeking to address. Specific objectives have been developed to reduce the risk factors associated with

alcohol consumption by youth and to reduce alcohol-related motor fatalities.

I have appended the section of this report dealing with misuse of alcohol and


Our specific objectives may be found in Section 3 of the appendix.

we are fully aware that implementing these object ives will require cooperation involving participants from many sectors and backgrounds on the local, State and national levels. Agencies within my Department, including the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute on Drug

Abuse, and the Center for Disease Control, among others, are involved in

addressing the 1990 goals.


The Department of Health and Human Services is actively involved in efforts of

"marketing the message" about the high price we pay for alcohol abuse and

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We are discussing possibilities of joint efforts with the National

Transportation Safety Board; and

We are vigorously joining forces within the Department of Health and

Human Services to achieve our prevention objectives for the future.

In addition to these activities, there is currently ongoing an activity of

which I am particularly proud

the Teenage Alcohol Abuse Initiative.

As part of that initiative, late last year HHS conducted a series of ten

conferences on prevention and early intervention for teachers, principals,

parents, PTAs and alcohol and drug counselors.

Over 1,100 people attended.

Position Paper on 21-Year-old Drinking Age
Senator Lee B. Laskin
Page Twenty-Three

The Emotional Argument:


If the drinking age debate was only a matter of statistics, I'm certain it would have been returned to 21 long ago.

Experience has taught me that many defenders of the lower drinking limit are not too concerned with logic. Instead they offer highly-charged emotional arguments. While such pleas may serve to reassure young people that they "deserve" to drink, it is important that we an swer their concerns.

The issue of the military draft surfaces quickly at any meeting attended by youths of college age or younger. The question they ask is pretty straightforward: if I am old enough to fight at age 18, then shouldn't I be considered old enough to drink?

Person ally, I have a difficult time seeing any relation between the draft and drinking ages. My many talks with classes of high school and college students have taught me to offer a blunt rebuttal to the draft argument the army drafts Privates, not Generals.

I'm sorry if that sounds a little hard, but I find it gets my point across to young people. Our military services begin taking young people at age 18 because they are finished their basic high school education and, more important, in prime physical condition. Any new Private in boot camp will tell you that their job is to be in peak physical fighting condition and to follow orders, not to design military strategy.

As new draftees or recruits are entering the service, the only exams are physical, not mental. While the army does try to ascertain that all new soldiers are basically in sound mental health, there is no implicit or explicit concern over maturity.


In addition to these conferences, this past spring we sponsored a special art exhibit for young people which featured works depicting teenage drinking and driving. I am also pleased that this Fall we are helping to organize 15 more conferences which will help communities assess the need for treatment programs, for students who encounter problems associated with the use of alcohol and drugs. When someone's drinking gets out of hand, do parents know where to turn? Do children? Do friends? These meetings will provide

answers, explain what treatment may consist of, and show

when trouble

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All of these actions are part of a Secretarial initiative of high personal priority and are aimed at getting the appropriate message to our young people. Additionally, in recent years, largely in response to growing public concern,

many States have moved to raise the minimum age for possession, purchase, and

consumption of alcoholic beverages. Evidence is accumulating which indicates that raising the legal drinking age significantly reduces alcohol-related

motor vehicle accident involvement among this age group. However, while I

believe that this can be an effective measure to reduce the tragic toll of

alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents among young people, at the same

time, I believe that this is an appropriate matter for the States to consider

rather than be mandated at the Federal level as proposed in H.R. 3870.

It is my belief that the actions of the Federal, State, and local Governments,

as well as citizens groups, including groups such as Student Aganist Drunk

Driving (SADD) and Mothers Aganist Drunk Driving (MADD), can have a positive

impact on this tragic problem.


Position Paper on 21-Year-old Drinking Age
Senator Lee B. Laskin
Page Twenty-Five

For parents, they want to defend their child's future happiness and tremendous talent. For teachers, they want to teach students how to face challenges and develop their unique skills. For the law enforcement officers, they face the near impossible task of protecting innocent drivers from thoughtless, intoxicated young drivers.

Another emotional argument is once again emerging. We are hearing that raising the drinking age to 21 in New Jersey will lead North Jersey teenagers to get into more accidents going back and forth to New York. I'll confess some impatience with an argument which ignores the tremendous increase in carnage on our own highways. The proposal that New Jersey will return to the 21-year-old limit if New York adopts a drinking age of 21 is childish "me-too-ism." Should Pennsylvania lower its drinking age from 21 to 18 because its young people are traveling to our state for alcohol? The reason ing is embarrassing, even if well-intentioned.

The New Jersey Legislature voted to lower the drinking age, and shouldn't expect New York or anyone else to raise it back. No more passing the buck or side-stepping the issue: we should make a return to 21 a priority.

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