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TABLE 9-1 Minimum Legal Drinking or Purchase Age Across 64 Countries

Minimum Age

Number of Countries



< 16














NOTE: Some countries have different minimum legal ages for the purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages or for different beverage types (e.g., beer and wine versus spirits), and in some cases there are regional variations within countries. The numbers in this table reflect the lowest minimum age for purchase or consumption of any alcoholic beverage in any state, province, or region within a country.

SOURCE: International Center for Alcohol Policies (2002).

can be done to increase compliance and, thereby, alcohol’s availability to underage youths. In order to promote compliance with any laws, they must be communicated to, and understood by, the intended audiences (in this case, primarily adults), and there must be a credible threat of enforcement to deter violations by those who have strong incentives to offend—in this case, by selling or giving alcohol to underage drinkers. Maximizing the incentives for voluntary compliance will minimize the need for enforcement.

The effectiveness of laws to restrict access to alcohol by youths can be increased by closing gaps in coverage, promoting compliance, and strengthening enforcement. Although particular methods for increasing effectiveness along these lines have been tried in various jurisdictions, and some data are available regarding their success, others have not been evaluated. The strength of the evidence in support of any particular intervention varies, and in some cases the available evidence is contradictory. However, the committee believes that the preponderance of the available evidence, including recent evidence from studies on the prevention of youth smoking, supports an emphasis on efforts designed to increase the effectiveness of restrictions on youth access to alcohol.

Given that youth usually obtain alcohol—directly or indirectly—from adults, the committee also believes that the focus of these efforts should be on adults. A key component of the committee’s strategy is the proposed

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