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McGuinty says ‘No' to 21 drinking age

Margaret Sheridan | Interrobang | News | April 7th, 2008

Despite opposition, LMHU presses on with extending drinking age

Despite a recommendation by the London-Middlesex Health Unit to increase the legal drinking age to 21-years-old, the list of opponents to the bill continues to grow.

The recommendation is part of a list the LMHU put together to help decrease the number of alcohol related deaths that occur in the province on a yearly basis. The health board voted in favour of the plan, which will now be passed on to the Association of Local Public Health Agencies in time for their June conference.

No matter their decision, however, Premier Dalton McGuinty, openly said last Tuesday that he would not agree to increasing the drinking age to 21-years, as proposed by the board, because it wouldn't keep teens from drinking.

“I think they're addressing it strictly as what they see as a health concern,” said London Police Services Deputy Chief Ian Peer. “I was in the age when this was tried out when it went from 21 to 18 and then up to 19. You're beginning to hear a lot of the same arguments now too, things such as ‘you can vote but you can't drink', or ‘you can serve in the military but you can't drink.'

“Those are typically going to come up, and I think if I was a young person coming up to that age I would be offering up the same sort of arguments on my behalf.”

LMHU isn't worrying about any of those arguments however, nor are do they think that the assumption that the increased age limit would lead to more underage drinking.

“We know that it's happening now,” said Mary Lou Albanese, the project manager for LMHU's chronic disease and injury prevention team. “There needs to be more recommendations to restrict their having access to alcohol. I don't think that completely understand the ramifications and the incidents involving death.”

The incidents Albanese is referring to are the 1,600 people between the ages 15 and 24 who die each year in alcohol related incidents in Canada, 45 per cent of which involve motor vehicles.

“That's really a significant number,” continued Albanese. “This is an issue in our society. There are harmful effects of alcohol, it's not a substance without ramifications. It causes violence and it causes injury, and we're looking at how to decrease those incidents.”

Amongst the suggestions made by the LMHU were lowering the legal blood alcohol level from 0.08 to 0.05 and changing the laws regarding drivers younger than 21 facing a zero blood-alcohol limit.

And while he doesn't think the board is out of line in their recommendations, Peer doesn't think that they'll have much support or that the proposed changes with affect much.

“Alcohol probably touches a little close to home,” Peer explained. “You don't have to have special abilities to drink, and yes, if there was no alcohol there would be less of a need for police.

“But we need to be looking at what other countries are doing because the big thing is our approach to alcohol. In some other countries where the age is younger there isn't the need for this sort of change.”
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