Monday, 8 February 2010

Too much too young?

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 ;-)


  1. Exactly the point I made the other week - it's lunacy!

  2. I've noticed that Tim Martin has his views on the subject framed in certain Wetherspoons now. He is spot on and the daft thing is that everyone kknows it, but it is too unpalatable for certain people to publicly say so.

  3. Quite. When my friends and I were underage-drinking in the pub, we made damn sure we behaved ourselves, not just because we didn't want to get chucked out, but because everyone else in the room was doing the same.

  4. My younger brother started drinking in pubs and before you know it he was fencing knock off gear and having the life bummed out of him on a 3 stretch for general pikiness. I on the other hand restricted my underage drinking to necking fine vintage chianti on park benches and spent my youth helping old ladies across the road among other selfless acts of benefit to the community before winning a community certificate for “nicest asbo kid on the estate” presented to me by Anthea Turner. Keep kids out of these evil pubs full of criminals and keep them safe boozing in parks!

  5. I always had a half of mild when I went to the pub with my dad from the age of about 12. I’d say ‘can I have a coke’ and the landlord would say ‘don’t the boy want a mild.’. I think it was a slow seller (despite this it always tasted nice). I don’t think its done me any harm.

  6. I voted under 14 because I have drunk in a pub on several occasions with my father. Youngest I think was about 10 years old, although at that time I didn't like the beer I was given. Always in moderation and always supervised. In actual fact it used to be quite legal, providing it was not in sight of the bar and was supervised by a responsible adult (whether my father has ever been responsible is a matter for debate).

    I am a very, very strong supported of the idea that education would tackle most of the problems we see today. The best education is delivered by the family. What is wrong with a youngster having half a beer with a meal when out with parents?

    I was probably 17 before I started buying beer for myself in a pub.

  7. But there are different groups of people - The puritancial zombies are not those who drank in pubs below the legal age.

  8. Philip, the point is that the modern-day puritans ARE the people who happily drank in pubs under 18. As Tim Martin said in the article I referred to:

    For example, in a conversation with Hazel Blears MP, one of a blur of different ministers responsible for licensing in the past decade, I asked her at what age she first drank in pubs. She replied, proudly I thought, “fourteen”.

    Similarly at a “round table” on binge drinking at the Guardian newspaper last year, all the participants agreed that they started using pubs before 18, at an average age of about 15, with the “winner” being the Government minister at 13, beating Mrs Blears by a narrow margin.

  9. My mum actually encouraged me to go to pubs when I was sixteen! The police would wade through us under-aged drinkers just to have a chat with the landlord. Although, in some ways I wonder if ID cards have unseen draw backs. This last summer (I'm a fair weather drinker now) a group of young lads walked into a pub I was in and they had trouble written all over them. The landlord refused to serve them because he said they were underaged. This was of course only the excuse, the real reason was that he just didn't want them in his pub. But he could hardly disguise his unease as one by one they produced ID and he was quite clearly happy when the last one failed to produce! I think it's such a shame that pubs are so out of reach for teenagers today. Although, one of the fears of bieng and under-aged drinker, is the threat of suddenly finding that only soft drinks are available! But that was one of the ways we were taught to behave ourselves!

  10. I see Tim Martin has now put his message on the front page of the Wetherspoons website: The War on Pubs.

  11. Slightly off-topic, currently working as data-logger at the bbc watching unedited footage for "The truth about food" it's all terrbily dull, but I have just watched something that is kind of obvious.

    A pair of female twins were informed that if you drink 8 litres of water in an hour you could die. In response to this one of them said "Oh dear, better stay away from that, don't want to die"

    This information must be kept from the government or we may see water being banned from pubs as it is dangerous...

    The scary things is that you can just see this happening.

  12. Most states in the nation adopted a minimum drinking age of 21 soon after federal passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which required states to maintain a minimum drinking age of 21. Under the Federal Aid Highway Act, States were required to enforce the minimum drinking age of 18 in order to avoid a 10% reduction in federal highway funds. The original intention of the law was to reduce the incidents of alcohol-related accidents among people under 21. But since passage of this legislation, and the raising of the drinking age in many states, the percentage of people who drink between the ages of 18 to 20 has skyrocketed. Many say the prohibitions have actually encouraged secretive binge drinking, more dangerous behavior, and less educational programming targeting this age group. Respected law enforcement officials and university presidents have recently called for changes in the federal law to permit states to lower the drinking age.

    At age 18, people are legal adults. As much as their parents may think otherwise, they are no longer children. They have the right to vote and help choose the President of the United States. They can go to war to defend our country, and they can legally purchase guns and cigarettes. It is absolutely absurd that they cannot have a beer or glass of wine without fear of possible arrest and prosecution.

    It's time for the nation to repeal these Prohibition-era laws and adopt a more intelligent, progressive, and educational approach to drinking among younger adults. These laws simply don't work, they aren't enforceable any longer, and if anything they are counterproductive. Literally millions of responsible young adults are already consuming alcohol and that's not going to change. What we need to do is stop wasting the taxpayers money chasing, charging and prosecuting responsible young adults who want to have a beer, and start putting the money where it ought to be, in promoting smart education about responsible drinking, and in pursuing far more serious criminals, including those at all ages who drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

    Eric Paine
    President & Founder
    Drink At 18

  13. Good comment, Eric, well said.


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