by Mark Pertschuk
Peter Coors’ suggestion that we “reopen the debate” on lowering the drinking age comes as no surprise to those who have followed Coors’ youth-oriented advertising over the years. Perhaps now that he is a candidate for the US Senate, Mr. Coors wants to do legally what his company has been doing for years — targeting kids with promotions for beer.
Twenty years ago Coors Brewing was the first to position Halloween as a beer-drinking holiday — launching what became an industry-wide practice of using Halloween images to market beer. More recently, public outcry forced Coors to withdraw a TV ad campaign that featured a shirtless, howling young man with “Coors” painted on his chest. This past October teen moviegoers filled theaters to see Scary Movie 3 — a PG-13 film co-promoted by Coors featuring Coors Light and an appearance by the Coors Twins.
Mr. Coors must be uncomfortable that a significant chunk of his company’s profits — like those of other major brewers — come from underage drinking. But rather than heed the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences to curb youth access to alcohol in its recent report “Reducing Underage Drinking,” Mr. Coors wants to make the problem go away by dropping the drinking age. Too bad it isn’t that easy to reclaim the thousands of young lives lost to alcohol-related homicide, suicide, motor vehicle and other injuries that occur in our country each year even with a national drinking age of 21.
There is no serious debate on the effectiveness of the national 21 drinking age law. Since its adoption 20 years ago, the law has saved nearly 20,000 young lives from alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes alone. If Mr. Coors wants to deliberate about something, he should focus instead on why beer taxes remain so low despite the fact that alcohol-related problems cost our nation upwards of $184 billion a year and young people can buy beer that is cheaper than water. Those, Mr. Coors, are questions worthy of debate.
Mark Pertschuk is the executive director of the Marin Institute.
Editor’s note: Peter Coors is running as a Republican candidate for Senate in Colorado and said he supports lowering the state’s current drinking age from 21 to 18.