Letter to the editor of The Daily Tar Heel

Evidence supports drinking age of 21

The following letter to the editor was published Thursday, August 20, in The Daily Tar Heel, UNC-Chapel Hill’s student newspaper, in response to a Wednesday, August 19, editorial.


Regarding the August 19 editorial, “Prohibition is unsafe,” I agree strongly that UNC-Chapel Hill leaders, in collaboration with merchants and leaders in Chapel Hill, have begun to address the serious problem of underage drinking. I am proud of the committed, shared town-and-gown effort that is providing important guidance and resolve, and the leadership of Vice Chancellor Winston Crisp and Provost Jim Dean, along with faculty and staff from our School, Student Health and elsewhere on campus. However, The Daily Tar Heel’s recommendation espoused in the article that our Chancellor should sign on to the Amethyst Initiative is not consistent with the state of scientific evidence.

For more than 10 years, I served as a member of the Task Force on Community Preventive Services, hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Task Force is charged with reviewing the evidence in a number of areas related to prevention. One important review area has been binge and underage drinking.

The Task Force conducted multiple evidence reviews and results were clear and consistent: An age 21 minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) should be maintained and enforced. This is based on overwhelming “evidence of effectiveness, including a median 16% decline in motor vehicle crashes among underage youth in states that increased the legal drinking age to 21 years.”

This is not a frivolous recommendation. Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to more than 4,300 deaths among underage youth in the United States each year. In addition, after examining available data and evidence, Jim Hall, Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board, called Minimum Legal Drinking Age laws among the most effective public policies ever enacted.

Many thoughtful commentators have suggested that signing on to the Amethyst Initiative is abrogating responsibility for students’ health and well-being, as well as for that of the larger community. In a place like Chapel Hill, borders of the town and campus are permeable. It would be unreasonable and irresponsible for us to advocate any sort of distancing from this problem (think car accidents, vandalism and healthcare costs). So far, UNC-Chapel Hill has stayed on the side of responsible scientific evidence. That is where we should remain. Underage and binge drinking and their consequences will not be solved by lowering the drinking age. In fact, substantial harm could result, including, potentially, to the very students to whom we are dedicated.

Barbara K. Rimer
School of Public Health

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