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

over 70 percent reported using alcohol in a one-month period. In addition, New Jersey officials confirmed the national estimate: more than one-fifth of the students admitted being "regular" drinkers, meaning use of alcohol on ten or more occasions within thirty days.

The survey found that almost a third of all students had used drugs (Marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, hallucinogens, barbiturates and tranquilizers) during school hours, and 16.5 percent of the 2,000 high school students reported using alcohol at least once during school hours.

In the New Jersey Attorney General's recent task force report endorsing a return to the 21-year-old drinking age, an important point was noted: "Among other consequences about which we have little or no available data, but which might be considered just as serious from a different perspective, is the fact that several thousand alcoholic young adults finish, or leave, high school each year. We cannot gauge the extent of lasting physical, psychological or emotional harm which results, at least in part, from such substance use at a time when it is most likely to develop alcohol or drug dependence." (emphasis added)

The state PTA recently surveyed New Jersey school principals on the extent of alcohol abuse by students. According to comments from the principals, too many students are showing up for class intoxicated. They either drink before school starts or, more frequently, visit local bars to "drink" their lunch, reported the principals.

Again, the problem is not unique to New Jersey. The concerns of school officials were a factor in Michigan's decision to return the drinking age to 21. Over 80 percent of the nearly 500 principals polled in Michigan endorsed the 21-year-old drinking limit referendum, citing serious education and discipline


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

problems due to the interference of alcohol in the education process.

How much can a student learn when they attend class either drunk or with a hangover? In a time when our schools are struggling to make ends meet, why should we enact policies (the lower drinking age, mandated alcohol education and discipline programs) which strain their already limited resources? Simply put, the Legislature's decision to make alcohol more accessible to young people has been at the expense of education.

Anticipating the usual criticism, I want to note that NO ONE is claiming that raising the drinking age will or can eliminate alcohol from our schools. There was alcohol abuse by students before the drinking age was lowered in 1973, and there will be problems after it is returned to 21. What we are discussing is stemming the flow of alcohol, instead of encouraging it. We can stop contributing to a serious problem by repudiating a policy of allowing teenagers to have such easy access to alcohol. We have to give our educators a fighting chance to help our young.

...Which brings us to the topic of alcohol education in the schools. In my original 1978 position paper on the drinking age, I stressed: "Education programs are essential if we are to prepare our young for the responsibilities of drinking."

As part of the 19-year-old drinking age compromise in 1979, Governor Byrne approved laws that mandate alcohol education in public schools. The Department of Education has been called upon to develop the curriculum, and new requirements are being established for those who will teach alcohol education courses.

However, when the issue of raising the drinking age to 21 is discussed, there are critics who argue that what is needed is even MORE alcohol education. While I firmly believe in the


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

need for good alcohol education programs, we can't keep passing off our social problems on the education system. Presently, we are demanding that schools be responsible for sex education, drug education, and alcohol education.

Whenever we ask schools to place more emphasis on teaching special social issue programs, that means proportionately less time can be spent on teaching basic skills. Those students who don't have a drinking problem, but who need more basic skills education, are the ones who must suffer.

Having students taught about a social problem does NOT absolve our government of its responsibility to correct those policies which are aggravating that social problem. It is time to understand that our priority as lawmakers should be to our children's education, not their drinking privilege.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for this opportunity to provide for the record my views and concerns about the problems associated with alcohol consumption by this Nation's youth

and the activities my Department is undertaking to address them.

Today, 10 million adult Americans suffer from alcoholism and alcohol-related

problems. In addition, an estimated 3.3 million teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 are experiencing problems with the use of alcohol. Eight out of 10 high school seniors have tried alcohol more than once and 31 percent of

high school students are considered to be alcohol misusers

that is, they're

drunk at least six times a year.

Surveys show the average age at which young people begin drinking is 13, and that average age has been getting lower. About one in every four tenth-to

twelfth graders drinks at least once a week. Fourteen percent of the youngsters in the peak of their formative years drink heavily once a week. Six percent of the twelfth graders in America drink daily. More senior high

school students today use alcohol than any other psychoactive drug, with those

who do often combining alcohol use with other drugs

with potentially deadly

consequences. Alcohol abuse and consumption is believed to be even higher among the high school students who drop out and are therefore not included in

national surveys.


I recall that in the 1950s, there was an aroused public consensus that a

national energency existed when 200 young Americans lost their lives because

of polio.

At the height of the polio epidemic in 1952, 3,000 Americans

succumbed to that disease, and we rushed

to develop a vaccine.

That vaccine

all American students now receive it at a very early age

has wiped polio

off our map.

Polio has become almost as rare as bubonic plague in the United


Today we face an epidemic in our society far harder to fight than polio. That epidemic is teen age alcohol abuse. Unfortunately, no doctor or scientist can discover and produce a vaccine which will imunize young people from driving after they drink. We can't manufacture a pill the don't-drink-and-drivepill which could compel young people to stay sober. There's no inoculation

which can immunize young Americans and keep them sober when they drive after

a Friday or Saturday night party.

The statistics I've referred to above are devastating. Each number, each statistic, represents a young American who left us too soon, their promise unfulfilled. But those statistics are not as stark as the tragedies


because no faceless, nameless statistic -- no

no matter
is as real as the impact of each single death and the

how grotesque

devastation it brings to relatives and friends.

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