Friday, March 4, 2016

Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote; Old Enough to Vote, Old Enough to Drink (and Smoke)


Editorial: "State should pass bill to increase smoking age to 21"

In spite of short-term public health benefits of raising the "smoking age" for tobacco to 21, the State of California should resist the temptation to do so and move instead to a thorough revamping of our drug and criminal laws to make them more rational and to make 18 a consistent and rigorously-enforced "age of majority" (legal adulthood).
            As many Americans argued during the 1960s, "Old enough to fight, old enough to vote," a principle enacted in 1971 in the 26th Amendment to the US Constitution. I.e., if someone is responsible enough to decide whether or not to register for the military draft and, if called, whether or not to agree to conscription; if someone is mature enough to decide whether or not to put his (sic) life in danger for his country; if someone is capable of deciding whether or not to agree to kill for his country — then that person is responsible enough to vote and deserves the vote.
            Alternatively American society would have to say that what we want for the Army is pretty much cannon fodder who needn't think a lot; and/or acknowledge that in approving the 26th Amendment we knew that not enough young people would vote as a bloc to matter much whether they're responsible citizens or not.
            And if someone is old enough to vote — again, unless we say voting isn't really important — that person is old enough to decide whether or not to use a drug like ethyl alcohol or nicotine.
            As long as it's set a decent interval after puberty, the age for legal adulthood is more or less arbitrary and should be part of rites of passage that make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. If people are told they're adults, expected to act like adults, and are held accountable as adults a rite of passage can work its magic and children become adults. "Late adolescence" was invented during my lifetime, and treating young Americans as adults at 18 — including demanding adult behavior — could have them again young adults. As Mike A. Males has demonstrated in two major books and other writing, older American teens are pretty much a normal adult American population or frequently doing better than their elders. If a fair number of teens are irresponsible jerks, well, so are many of their elders, the older folk just having less energy to be noisy in our evil and experienced enough to be, usually, more discreet.
            Instead of the traditional grousing about them damn youngins and their bad habits, older Americans need to admit that main-stream adult America is a drug culture with a lot of immature, irresponsible and self-destructive behavior starting with pounding beers and popping pills. And then we need to take vigorous public health actions to help addicts, and public policy actions to significantly tone down the marketing of drugs of all sorts and reverse the message that relief from all manner of pain is at the bottom of a bottle.
            As long as it's illegal for an adult to give 20 grams of marijuana to a friend, it should be a felony to design a marketing campaign around "Bitter Beer Face" and push a gateway beer like Keystone Light to young people.
            Rather than passing laws so that "Parents that host / Lose the Most," we should encourage parents to teach their children that drinking is a choice, and if they choose to drink they can sip like ladies and gentlemen and use alcohol (and softer drugs) responsibly. It should not be too hard to return to the old idea that getting sloppy drunk and puking on a date isn't signaling sophisticated maturity.
            As for tobacco use, we need more to harness even more of those fiendishly brilliant pushers of beer and wine and stronger booze and get them working on ad campaigns that show nicotine use "Soooo 20th-century!", fit only for old people and the terminally uncool (or whatever the cool word will be for "uncool").
            Making cigarettes a symbol of adulthood is not a good idea.

            Taking yet another step teaching 18-20-year olds that we think they're children and expect them to act that way: that is an invitation to even more arrested development among American youth and a very bad idea.

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