IT TOOK America about 15 years to figure out its first Prohibition in the early part of the last century wasn’t working.
It takes your average teen-ager about 15 minutes to figure the current Prohibition – the one that says he or she can’t drink till 21 – is a crock.
An 18-year-old looks around and sees he can sign contracts, drive, serve in the Army, marry, hold public office. He can do everything an adult can do – but legally drain a beer.
Meanwhile, he hears a constant stream of anti-alcohol messages in school that equate a simple glass of beer with heroin.
So what’s he do?
Drink, of course. And not just a social glass of brew. He’ll pound down half a case, do jello shots, drain a beer bong and puke. Maybe he’ll drive with his brains in a fog and kill somebody.
It’s the same thing that happened in the first Prohibition. Alcohol was banned, and the saloons got even bawdier. There’s something about a dumb law that makes you want to break it, big time.
Did I hear someone say there’s gotta be a better way?
Here’s a new idea, floated recently by a pair of researchers and college official on the front lines of campus alcohol abuse:
A provisional drinking license for young people.
David J. Hanson, a sociologist at New York’s state university at Potsdam, says the license would ease late teens into the culture of drinking.
“The idea is, instead of zero tolerance, to teach young people – 19- and 20-year-olds – about alcohol,” said Hanson who suggests the license in the “Alcohol in Moderation” journal with co-authors Dwight B. Heath of Brown University and Joel S. Rudy of Ohio University.
Under their plan, the license would be issued only if parents approve, and it could be unilaterally revoked by them or other officials.
There would be restrictions. No hanging out on Delaware Avenue at 2 a.m., for instance, and no takeouts. Instead, a licensee could drink only till 11 p.m., and only at places where food is the main attraction.
The license would also require formal instruction about alcohol, and an exam.
Yeah, it sounds a bit goofy – a learner’s permit for boozers. What’s next, Introduction to Chugging 101? (Of course, I’m available if they need the services of Prof. Sixpack. )
Hanson says the current approach to alcohol is “as if we said driving is dangerous, and teen-agers are too young to drive. We give them no driver training, then on their 21st birthday, we hand them the keys to the family car and say, ‘Be careful. ‘
“Our whole system of roads would be a disaster if we did that. But we apply the same system to alcohol and we’re surprised when it doesn’t work right. “
Hanson says he’s gotten favorable reaction from everyone but “the professional anti-alcohol people. ” Yet, he acknowledges most Americans probably favor even more Draconian anti-alcohol measures.
“A lot of people have come to believe the line that underage drinking is dangerous in and of itself,” he says.
That ignores the experience of countries where young people – even under the age of 16 – are permitted to drink. Overall alcohol abuse in those countries is about the same as in America. Yet, experts say, you see little of the extreme drinking – all-night binges on high-proof liquor – that occurs on most college campuses.
Some colleges have banned alcohol altogether – a wrong-headed policy that forces students to drive back to campus after a night of partying.
“The problem is we don’t make room for moderation,” he says. “It’s as if you either have total abstention or alcohol abuse.
“We’ve got people now who are embarrassed of drinking in front of their own children,” he says. “Parents ought to be good role models and show their children, ‘This is how to consume alcohol responsibly. ‘
“But when the schools equate alcohol with drugs, you get kids coming home – they see their father drinking a beer, and they say, ‘Daddy, don’t do drugs. ‘
“The whole approach is counterproductive. “
Not long ago, South Korea dropped its minimum drinking age to 18. Hanson says that apparently leaves the United States as the only place on the planet where, if it’s legal to drink, you have to wait till you’re 21 to drain a glass of beer.
So, how’s our modern-day Prohibition going?
Drunken driving: still climbing.
Binge drinking: on every campus.
Random alcohol abuse: still going strong.
“It’s a bizarre experiment,” says Hanson, “and it isn’t working. “
Bud fact of the week
Anheuser-Busch’s domestic sales reached a record 99.5 million barrels last year. That’s equal to 120 bottles of beer for every man, woman, child and college student in America.
Men are twice as likely to know the price of their beer as their mate’s bra size.
Well, duh . . .
But now it’s official. In a poll by Britain’s Prima magazine, 77 percent of males knew how much their pint costs, but only 38 percent knew the correct size of their partner’s underwear.
Which sounds like a perfectly understandable explanation for picking up a case of brew for her next birthday.
Heineken kicks the keg
Alfred (Freddy) Heineken, 1923-2002, R.I.P.
I hated his beer, at least the skunky version that stocked the shelves in America. But you had to love the man. One of the most successful industrialists of the 20th century, he once boasted, “I don’t walk on water, I walk on beer. “
Others have written more complete obits. Here’s a sixpack of Heineken trivia:
1. His grandfather actually started the brewery, in 1864. But by the time Freddy reached his 20s, he was nearly broke and the family – which had sold its shares to outside managers – had lost control of the company. Heineken regained control by renting a Rolls-Royce and driving to an Amsterdam bank where he proclaimed, “Hello sir, my name is Fred Heineken and I need a loan of 400,000 guilders. ” He got the cash (about $160,000 at the time) and bought back the company’s stock. For most of the post-WWII period, Heineken was the best-known beer in the world.
2. Beer was not Heineken’s only passion. He wrote love ballads, and late in his life he produced records.
3. He was an idea man. In 1960, he commissioned the World Bottle – a square bottle that could be recycled as a brick for housing in poor countries. Known as Wobo, it never went into production because Heineken’s marketing department complained it didn’t look like a beer bottle. The only structure built with the bottle was a shed at one of Heineken’s breweries.
4. He also came up with a couple possible solutions for repairing the Earth’s ozone layer. Scientists are still studying the ideas.
5. When he and his chauffeur were kidnapped in 1983, he kept sane by entertaining his abductors with bad jokes. He was freed after three weeks for a ransom thought to be in excess of $11 million. One of his kidnappers, Franz Meijer, was given a 12-year jail sentence but escaped in 1985 and fled to Paraguay, where he now runs a restaurant.
6. Famous quote: “I don’t sell beer, I sell warmth.
Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of Magic Hat Fat Angel.