I recently concluded a poll asking the question: “At what age did you first have an alcoholic drink in a pub?” There were 72 responses, and the answers were as follows:
14 or under: 18 (25%)
15: 15 (21%)
16: 21 (29%)
17: 11 (15%)
18: 4 (6%)
Over 18: 3 (4%)
So 90% of respondents had actually drunk in a pub before the legal age of 18, with 46%, or nearly half, having had a drink at 15 or under. Only 6% had postponed having a drink until the year they had turned 18, while a mere 4% were late developers. No doubt these results would send Don Shenker and Sir Liam Donaldson into a fit of apoplexy, but, as Tim Martin has argued, there is a huge amount of hypocrisy in society when many adults in responsible positions admit to having drunk in pubs before they were 18, and say it helped with their growing up and socialisation, while at the same time doing their utmost to stop today’s young people doing the same.
While it would be unthinkable in the current climate to lower the legal drinking age, surely there is much to be said for often turning a blind eye to young people having the odd drink in pubs so long as they behave themselves. Learning to drink under the watchful eye of potentially disapproving adults must be far better than doing it purely with your own age group in parks or friends’ bedrooms. It is a classic example of making a problem worse by clamping down hard on it.
Edit: I am now going to keep the most recent closed polls at the bottom of the left-hand sidebar so you can see I haven't fiddled the results ;-)