Legal drinking age; the sixties and today

Posted: September 3, 2012 by Admin in New Zealand history, New Zealand politics, Youth rights

by Don Franks

I support the drinking age remaining at eighteen years of age. At eighteen, a person is treated as an adult in other respects, and should have the freedom to drink alcohol if they want to.

To some extent, all age restrictions are crude and artificial measurements, because people develop and mature at different rates. A future society may have no requirement for any legal age restrictions.

That said, I have some sympathy with many of those who who argue that the drinking age should be raised.

Alcohol is a powerful drug, capable of causing all sorts of serious harm. Palatable alcohol is legally made and distributed by a vast capitalist industry who care for nothing but maximum profits.

It is standard practice for older people to describe the younger generation as being worse than they were. But there is undoubtedly more social alcohol danger now than there was in my teenage years.

Back in the sixties, we youths binge drank when we could, but it was harder to do. Yes, the drinking age was higher, but that was easily got around, other restrictions were more problematic.

There were very few liquor outlets, basically just small bottle shops attached to public hotels. There were no cut price booze barns, no alcohol in dairies or shops and no sales at all on Sunday.

My generation had to overcome the initially unpleasant taste of liquor, because there were no alcopops to make a smooth transition from Fanta.

Alcohol was not available at coffee bars or picture theaters and was served at fewer sporting and social events. There was no bar at the university. Liquor advertising was not nearly so energetic or sophisticated as it is now.

Today there is the concept of getting “wasted”, which may be achieved by alcohol or else by a variety of means previously unavailable. For most youth in New Zealand’s 1960s there were hardly any other recreational drugs to be readily had. Dope and hash and pills and speed and smack were mostly things you read about happening in other countries. Small sectors of society surreptitiously used various drugs, but schools were essentially unaffected.

Today’s medical and social urge to raise the age to 20 is in many cases a desperate well-meant plea, but it would not bring about the desired result.

Brewery profiteering aside, I have no idea what is driving the pervasive New Zealand binge drinking culture, but it will not be ameliorated by legal means, or by blaming youth.

What the answer is I don’t know, social pressures of capitalist society play a part, and poverty has spawned alcoholism for centuries. That said, a lot of Kiwi binge drinkers are from very well-off families, more comfortable and secure in every respect than most people on the planet.

  1. Nice summary of social “progress” in New Zealand Don. I personally won’t allow any alcohol or other drugs on my premises, and with no concessions to age. Drugs are, in my estimation, the major obstacle to social emancipation and political change here in Aotearoa, and their elimination from society should be a top priority.

  2. Phil says:

    Brought back memories. I recall getting into a pub at age 16 when I’m fairly sure the drinking age was still 21. It was a central city pub in Christchurch frequented by students, young workers, the left and lots of under-age drinking. I didn’t go up to the bar; me and my mate were with a bunch of lefties about four or five years older than us and we gave them the money to buy the booze, and we just keep out of sight of the bar. There was quite a lot of kudos involved in getting into bars under-age then.

    Once I reached the age of majority, I actually started drinking a lot less. 16 was my big drinking year, last year of high school. I’ve never consumed so much alcohol in any year since then. A bit similar with smoking. I smoked when I was wasn’t supposed to and once I was old enough to smoke I had no interest in it, and have never been a smoker.

    A more intelligent attitude by society to the consumption of alcohol and other drugs is needed. But I don’t see the current booze culture here being solved this side of the revolution. A different kind of society would bond people in different ways; human solidarity comes much more to the fore and while alcohol would still help lubricate the bonds, it wouldn’t be the actual form that the bonding takes, as it often is at present. People would have better things to do with their lives than getting wasted and they’d want to be conscious of what they were doing at any point in time.