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Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility
IMPLEMENTING LAWS ON THE MINIMUM DRINKING AGE
Strategies aimed at reducing youth access to alcohol focus on the nature and scope of the access restrictions and the policies and practices used to implement and enforce them (Holder, 2004; Grube and Nygaard, 2001; Toomey and Wagenaar, 1999). Overall, the purpose of these policies and practices is to raise the “full price” of alcohol by increasing the effort and resources necessary to obtain it or by increasing the threatened consequences for its use. Importantly, such policies and procedures can also communicate community norms—to young people regarding the unacceptability of their drinking and to adults about the unacceptability of providing alcohol to minors (Bonnie, 1986). These aims are analogous to those sought by laws curtailing youth access to tobacco (see Institute of Medicine, 1994a) and restricting nonmedical access to marijuana, cocaine, and other illegal drugs (see National Research Council, 2001).
Limiting youth access to alcohol has been shown to be effective in reducing and preventing underage drinking and drinking-related problems. Studies routinely show that increasing the minimum drinking age significantly decreased the number of fatal traffic crashes, the number of arrests for “driving under the influence” (DUI), and self-reported drinking by young people (Klepp et al., 1996; O’Malley and Wagenaar, 1991; Saffer and Grossman, 1987a, 1987b; Wagenaar, 1981, 1986; Wagenaar and Maybee, 1986; Voas et al., 1999; Yu et al., 1997). Similarly, implementation of zero tolerance laws—which ban underage youths from driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) above measurable levels (usually 0.01-0.02)—has been shown to significantly reduce underage drinking and driving (Hingson et al., 1994; Voas et al., 1999; Wagenaar et al., 2001; Zwerling and Jones, 1999). Community interventions also provide evidence for the effectiveness of comprehensive approaches to reduce drinking and drinking
implement, and there is significant variation in the type and intensity of interventions implemented across communities; moreover, the evaluation was not designed to consider the effectiveness of a particular intervention or set of interventions within individual communities. The outcomes evaluation reported to date was also based on a single year of intervention (future evaluation reports will include 2 years of data), which is highly unlikely to affect alcohol use outcomes. Not surprisingly, the evaluation documents increases in enforcement activities, but no significant decreases in youth alcohol use (Wolfson et al., 2003). For the current fiscal year, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has shifted toward a more prescriptive approach that will require local communities participating in the discretionary grant component to implement identified best and most promising practices (OJJDP, 2003). If continued, this would better enable the evaluation to assess the effectiveness of particular interventions and further refine the program.