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Pressure builds for national drinking law.

The health and safety implications of alcohol consumption are a matter of growing public concern.

Local, state and now federal lawmakers are looking at legislation that would tighten regulations on the sale and promotion of wine, beer and liquor. Powerful consumer groups are putting alcohol-related issues at the top of their priority lists for 1984. Even President Reagan has joined the chorus demanding sweeping reforms aimed at getting drunk drivers off the road.

One of the suggested solutions to curbing alcohol abuse and the resulting roadway carnage is to raise the legal drinking age. Next month, the House Energy and Commerce Committee plans hearing on Rep. James J. Florio's, D-N.J., bill (H.R. 3870) requiring states to set a minimum age of 21 for the purchase or consumption of all alcoholic beverages. Florio, who contends that alcohol abuse is "a national problem that requires a national solution," received a boost recently when the prestigious Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving released a report also recommending a federal drinking age law.

"There is evidence of a direct correlation between the minimum drinking age and alcohol-related crashes among the age groups affected (18-21)," the commission says. "Studies have shown that raising the legal drinking age produced an average annual reduction of 28% in nighttime fata crashes involving these drivers. One of the studies indicated that if all remaining states raised the drinking age to 21, there would be 730 fewer young persons killed annually on United States highways."

Nineteen states have passed laws requiring a minimum age of 21 for consumption of alcoholic beverages. So far, however, the impact on consumption of beer, wine and liquor is undetermined, according to the various alcoholic beverage trade associations.

Beyond printing new signs reminding patrons and checkers of new purchasing are requirements, the effect of "age 21" laws on grocers apears to be negligible. Supermarketers in New Jersey and Maryland--both of which recently adopted the higher drinking age--report no changes in traffic or purchasing patterns. In fact, from January 1983, when New Jersey's new law took effect, to August, beer consumption in the state rose 1.1%, the U.S. Brewers Association reports.

Neither the Food Marketing Institute nor the National Grocers Association plans to take a stand on legislation to raise the minimum drinking age. Whether stores can sell alcoholic beverages at all, not the purchasing age, has traditionally been supermarketers' concern, they indicate.

However, the makers of alcoholic beverages are on record against a federal law mandating a higher drinking age. "The 21st Amendment grants the states the right to determine who should drink, where they should drink and when they should drink," says Duncan Cameron, spokesman for the Distilled Spirits Council. "Local jurisdictions are the best judge of what fits their needs. If a minimum age of 21 is best, they'll enact it. But we don't think there's any magical number."

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Author:Densford, Lynn E.
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Article Type:column
Date:Feb 1, 1984
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