Health Unit's drinking age proposal draws controversy

Board of Health proposes six resolutions to increase awareness on alcohol's negative impact

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Checking ID at the bar

Justin Wu

IF YOU'RE WEARING HUGGIES, WE'LL KEEP IT TO ONE LONG ISLAND ICED TEA. The Middlesex-London Health Unit is pushing for several resolutions to be passed in the province, most notably changing the regulations for Blood Alcohol Concentration and raising the legal drinking age from 19 to 21.

Entrepreneurs of Ontario’s fake-ID industry may have more work ahead of them after London’s Board of Health passed recommendations calling for Ontario to raise the legal drinking age from 19 to 21.

Though the resolution has received the majority of public attention, it is only one of six proposed by the Middlesex-London Health Unit Board of Health, said Mary Lou Albanese, a member of the board.

The move will now go before the Association of Local Public Health Agencies in June.

Albanese, the manager of chronic disease and injury prevention with the MLHU, created the proposal. She explained the raising of the drinking age is just one piece of an overall plan to address problems arising from alcohol consumption.

“It’s meant to make the community aware of the issue of alcohol,” Albanese said, explaining the board had six separate resolutions, including stricter advertising standards, advocacy for enhanced education, and reduction of the legal blood alcohol concentration from 0.08 per cent to 0.05 per cent.

“The one piece about the age will be a more [controversial] issue,” Albanese said. “But I do think through stricter advertising, more promotional information, and lowering the [legal BAC], we can make some substantial gains.”

In her report, Albanese cites statistics that show 1,595 youth aged 15-24 died from injury in 2001 " 45 per cent of which were in motor vehicle accidents and nearly 40 per cent of all fatal crashes were the result of drinking and driving.

“It’s better to prevent injury and death related to alcohol consumption ... even one [accidental death] is preventable, especially when drinking is involved.”

Critics have raised concerns about the most contentious issue: raising the legal drinking age.

“[The move] would devastate our bar industry in London absolutely,” Mark Serre, chair of the London Bar and Entertainment Association, said. Serre felt the move would also have a negative effect on student neighbourhoods.

“You’re going to take [alcohol] away from the controlled environment of the bars, where liability-wise we have to look after our clients ... and [you will] see the parties in residential neighbourhoods go through the roof.

“I think they’re looking at the issue in a very [American-centric] sort of way instead of looking at it in a world view,” Serre added.

University Students’ Council President Tom Stevenson echoed Serre. “Look at the [United] States,” Stevenson said. “They still face huge problems with underage alcohol consumption both on and off-campus.”

“Let’s be honest,” he continued, “Students are social and generally have a drink upon occasion. [This would] only increase the amount of undergraduates who can’t legally obtain alcohol.”

Stevenson added the move would only complicate issues for residence staff who already had to deal with an increase in under-aged students in residence due to the double cohort.

Angela Finnie, a second-year anthropology student, also disagreed with the proposal. “I feel that at the age of 19 there are many new responsibilities imposed on us ... we are entrusted with extremely important tasks such as voting.

“It would be hypocritical to say that at the same time we’re not responsible enough to drink.”

“Alcohol is a drug and we’re not asking people to make decisions about [voting] when under its influence,” Albanese countered.

Susan Eagle, councillor for Ward 9 and chair of the board, summed up the board’s argument: “We’re not trying to ban alcohol, we’re just trying to make sure people are mature enough to use it responsibly.”


Establish stricter advertising standards for alcohol;

Advocacy for an enhanced provincial public education and promotion campaign on the negative health impacts of alcohol misuse;

Eliminate the availability of alcohol except in Liquor Control Board Outlets (LCBOs or Beer Stores);

Advocacy to reduce the legal Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) from 0.08 per cent to 0.05 per cent;

Advocacy for an increase in the legal drinking age in Ontario from 19 to 21 years of age and enact a zero BAC on drivers until they reach the age of 21;

Support the Ontario Public Health Association in advocating for a provincial strategy for alcohol and drugs.

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