Legal Drinking Age

Our Thinking

We think it is critically important to protect underage youth, their families and communities from the harms associated with the irresponsible consumption of alcohol.

We also think it is important to acknowledge a lack of consensus around the world about what legal drinking age limits should be, and how they are enforced. Legislated drinking and purchase limits reflect local societies and their collective values as well as culturally-influenced drinking patterns, and as such, vary from region to region. The complexity of this issue is compounded by distinctions made between on-premise consumption and off-premise purchase, as well as the fact that some jurisdictions make allowances for alcohol consumed by minors with a parent present and/or inside the family home.

Finally, while the research consistently reinforces the importance of visible and effective enforcement of minimum drinking age laws, the practice of enforcing such laws tends to be inconsistent, with varying degrees of public visibility. Moreover, researchers and authorities worldwide continue to emphasize the importance of enforcement efforts occurring in a context of complementary activities—such as education and prevention efforts and community- and school-based intervention programs.

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BASED ON THESE FINDINGS AND OBSERVATIONS, BROWN-FORMAN SUPPORTS AND ENCOURAGES:1

The adoption of a legal drinking age of at least 18-years old globally

We see drinking as something which requires a certain level of maturity in order to do so responsibly.

In countries where no such limits exist, we will (either alone or with others who share this objective) encourage governments to introduce a minimum purchase age and to enforce it.

Clearly defined drinking age limits, regardless of a product’s alcohol type or volume

Specific —and clear communication of—minimum legal drinking ages in all jurisdictions around the world.

We believe that “alcohol is alcohol is alcohol” and there should be no false distinction between equivalent amounts of alcohol in a standard serving of spirits, wine or beer (www.standarddrinks.com).

Consistent age limits for neighboring jurisdictions

Within any given country, we encourage jurisdictions to give serious consideration to setting age limits which are consistent with their neighboring jurisdictions.

Even in countries where the legal drinking age is lower than 18-years old – or has not been established – directing beverage alcohol marketing to people who are at least 18-years old

We think being a responsible corporate citizen in this way is not only the right thing to do, but critical to our brand-building mission and continued success.

Education and prevention

Ongoing and continually updated education and prevention initiatives supported by the private sector, public agencies, and private-public partnerships.

Such initiatives should foster awareness of legal drinking and purchase age requirements.

We commit to work with interested stakeholders, including those above as well as NGOs and IGOs, to develop, promote and disseminate educational materials and programs designed to prevent and reduce underage purchase and consumption. These initiatives should include consulting experts on the development of best practice educational materials for use by parents, schools, and community groups and in social media.

These initiatives should also promote accurate information about the penalties for breaking legal drinking age laws (both for underage drinkers as well as retailers, servers, and drinking establishments).

Enforcement in a complementary community context

Visible and consistent enforcement of legal drinking age laws and regulations by law enforcement authorities.

In addition to enforcement efforts by law enforcement authorities, we support a complementary range of school- and community-based prevention, education, and intervention activities, including activities implemented with retailers and servers.

Shared commitment

It is important to emphasize and embrace the great value of family, school, and community involvement in all education, prevention, intervention, and enforcement activities.

All such efforts stand a better chance of success with a sense of commitment shared amongst families, educators, the alcohol industry, the hospitality industry, law enforcement, community groups, and young people under the drinking age themselves.

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  • 1. These positions do not pertain to religious occasions and ceremonies which may traditionally involve beverage alcohol, as well as parental serving of alcohol to children in the home.
  • In the majority of countries, governments set a minimum age at which it is legally permissible to drink and/or to purchase alcohol. Generally speaking, the legal purchase limit set by a local, state, or national government reflects the age at which it is deemed acceptable for individuals to consume alcohol.

    That said, as the research indicates, in some countries, the legal ages for purchase—versus legal ages for consumption—vary. In addition, certain age limits differ according to on-premise and off-premise distinctions, the type of beverage alcohol being purchased or consumed, and whether the consumption is taking place with a parent present, or in the family home.

    Issues related to legal drinking age tend to focus on disparities amongst age limits, inconsistent or ineffective enforcement of age limits, and harmful behaviors associated with alcohol abuse such as binge drinking.

  • AGE LIMITS WORLDWIDE: A MIX OF DISTINCTIONS

    In addition to making general distinctions between purchase and consumption, drinking age laws also distinguish specifically between the ages at which alcohol can be consumed and purchased on-premise (or “on trade”) and off-premise (or “off trade”). Legislation in some countries addresses on- and off-premise sales separately, while in other countries, it makes no such delineation. Where legislation makes the on- or off-premise distinction, the minimum age tends to be lower for off-premise purchase1. In addition, some laws assign different minimum ages based on the type of beverage alcohol being consumed or purchased—for example, beer or wine versus spirits (see table below). Some jurisdictions also apply age limits differently (or do not apply them at all) in circumstances which include parents being present or alcohol being served by parents at home.2, 3

    APPENDIX I: MINIMUM AGE LIMITS WORLDWIDE4

    lda-graph


    • COUNTRYMINIMUM DRINKING AGEMINIMUM PURCHASING AGE
      Algeria1818
      Benin2020
      Botswana1818
      Burundi1616
      Cameroon1821
      Cape Verde1818
      Central African Republic1818
      ComorosNoneNone
      Congo, Republic of1818
      Egypt2121
      Equatorial Guinea1818
      Eritrea1818
      Ethiopia1818
      Gambia1818
      Ghana1818
      Kenya1818
      Lesotho1818
      LibyaIllegalIllegal
      Malawi1818
      Mauritius1818
      MoroccoNone16
      Mozambique1818
      Namibia1818
      Niger1818
      Nigeria1818
      Seychelles1818
      Sierra LeoneNoneNone
      South Africa1818
      Swaziland1818
      Uganda18 *18
      Zambia1814
      Zimbabwe1818


    • COUNTRYMINIMUM DRINKING AGEMINIMUM PURCHASING AGE
      Azerbaijan1818
      Bahrainvaries by religionvaries by religion
      Bangladeshvaries by religionvaries by religion
      Bhutan1818
      Bruneiillegalillegal
      CambodiaNoneNone
      China1818
      India18 to 25, depending on state18 to 25, depending on state
      Indonesia2121
      IranIllegalIllegal
      Israel1818
      Japan2020
      Jordan1818
      Kazakhstan1818
      Korea (South Korea)1919
      Kyrgyzstan1818
      Lao PDR1818
      Malaysia1818
      PakistanIllegal (21 for non-Muslim population)Illegal (21 for non-Muslim population)
      Philippines1818
      Qatarillegalillegal
      Saudi Arabiaillegalillegal
      Singapore1818
      Sri Lanka2121
      Taiwan 1818
      Thailand2020
      Turkey1818
      Turkmenistan1818
      United Arab EmiratesIllegalIllegal
      Uzbekistan2020
      Vietnam1818
      YemenIllegalIllegal


    • COUNTRYMINIMUM DRINKING AGEMINIMUM PURCHASING AGE
      Australia1818
      Fiji1818
      Guam2121
      Kiribati2121
      Micronesia2121
      Nauru2121
      New Zealand1818
      Palau2121
      Papua New Guinea1818
      Samoa21 *21
      Solomon Islands2121
      Tonga2121
      Vanuatu1818


    • COUNTRYMINIMUM DRINKING AGEMINIMUM PURCHASING AGE
      Albania1818
      Andorra1818
      Armenia1818
      Austriavaries by state and by beveragevaries by state and by beverage
      Belarus1818
      Belgiumvaries by beveragevaries by beverage
      Bosnia and Herzegovina1818
      Bulgaria1818
      Croatia1818
      Cyprus1717
      Czech Republic1818
      Denmark18varies by beverage
      Estonia1818
      Finland1818
      France1818
      Georgia1818
      Germanyvaries by beveragevaries by beverage
      Gibraltar1818
      Greece18varies by beverage
      Hungary1818
      Iceland2020
      Ireland1818
      Italy1818
      Latvia1818
      Lichtenstein16 for beer and wine;18 spirits16 for beer and wine;18 spirits
      Lithuania1818
      Luxembourg1616
      Macedonia1818
      Malta1717
      Moldova1818
      Monaco1818
      Montenegro1818
      Netherlands1818
      Norway18, but 20 for spirits defined as 22% ABV18, but 20 for spirits defined as 22% ABV
      Portugal1818
      Romania1818
      Russia1818
      Serbia1818
      Slovakia1818
      Slovenia1818
      Spainvaries by regionvaries by region
      Sweden18varies by beverage
      Switzerlandvaries by beverage and jurisdictionvaries by beverage and jurisdiction
      Ukraine1818
      United Kingdom18 *18


    • COUNTRYMINIMUM DRINKING AGEMINIMUM PURCHASING AGE
      Bahamas1818
      Barbados1818
      Belize1818
      Bermuda18-
      Canadavaries by provincevaries by province
      Cayman Islands1818
      Costa Rica1818
      Dominica1616
      Dominican Republic1818
      El Salvador1818
      Grenada16none
      Guatemala1818
      Jamaica1616
      Mexico1818
      Nicaragua1818
      Panama1818
      Saint Kitts and Nevis1818
      Saint Lucia1818
      Trinidad and Tobago1818
      United States21 *varies by jurisdiction


    • COUNTRYMINIMUM DRINKING AGEMINIMUM PURCHASING AGE
      Argentina1818
      Bolivia1818
      Brazil1818
      Chile1818
      Colombia1818
      Ecuador1818
      Guyana18 *18
      Paraguay2020
      Peru1818
      Uruguay1818
      Venezuela1818

    Source: IARD.org “Minimum Age Limits Wordlwide”

    As indicated by the examples in Appendix I, the most commonly legislated minimum age for both on-premise consumption and off-premise purchase is 18-years old, with lower limits in countries such as France and Denmark (16-years old for off-premise purchase), and higher limits in the United States, Indonesia, and Micronesia (21-years old for on- and off-premise purchase) and Japan (20-years old).

    In addition, there are countries where the age limit scenarios become even more complex. For example, in Austria, for distilled spirits, the minimum age for purchase and consumption is 16-years old in three of nine Federal States, and 18-years old in the six other Federal States (with some Federal States differentiating by alcohol content, legislating higher minimum ages for purchase or consumption of drinks with alcohol content of 12 percent Alcohol By Volume (ABV) or more). In Canada, the legal age for consumption or purchase is 18-years old in three provinces, but 19-years old in the remaining provinces. In India, on- and off-premise legal age limits range from 18 to 25, depending on the state. In Belgium, there is no minimum off-premise purchase age for wine and beer; in Brazil, there is no minimum off-premise purchase age for any kind of beverage alcohol.5

    VARIATIONS IN THE LAW AND ENFORCEMENT IMPLICATIONS

    Drinking age limits are largely a reflection of the cultural influences and collective societal values of any given community, state, or nation. In turn, these social norms tend to coincide with drinking patterns – the styles, contexts, and cultural dimensions of drinking in societies worldwide.6 The range of differences in societal practices and cultural drinking patterns is reflected in the array of rules and laws which dictate legal drinking ages around the globe.

    Such variations in drinking age rules and laws present certain enforcement challenges. For example, young people below the drinking age under one set of laws may have easy access to alcohol in a nearby jurisdiction with lower age limits. The phenomenon of young people crossing borders to circumvent legal drinking age requirements has been linked in research to problems such as alcohol-impaired driving and binge drinking. As a result, in some parts of the world—for example, within the European Union—there has been public debate about harmonizing alcohol policies from country to country in order to reduce the risk of potential harms associated with young people crossing borders for the purpose of purchasing and/or consuming alcohol.7

    Research has consistently reinforced the finding that visible and effective enforcement of drinking laws is the key to the success of legislation, including drinking age limits.8 More specifically, studies of the effects of increased enforcement show it to be a highly effective way to reduce alcohol sales to minors. For instance, targeted enforcement efforts with high visibility such as compliance checks on retail alcohol outlets have been found to typically cut rates of sales to minors by at least 50 percent.9

    In addition to enforcement activity focused on retail outlets, personnel in on-premise settings may be trained to enforce minimum age limits by requiring proper identification of patrons who might potentially be underage. Enforcement efforts and methods may also include penalties for underage drinkers which are linked to their driving privileges (e.g., revocation or suspension), as well as fines or revocation of serving licenses for establishments who are in violation of legal drinking age laws and regulations.

    Despite its pivotal role, enforcement of minimum drinking age laws, in many countries, has been shown to be generally inconsistent and in many instances, only sporadically visible or effective.10

    Moreover, in countries such as the United States where the 21-year old minimum legal drinking age is higher than in most jurisdictions worldwide, there is research which shows that youth under age 21 do in fact illegally obtain and consume alcohol. For example, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the U.S. reports that more than one quarter (25.1 percent) of people aged 12 to 20 consumed alcohol in the past month—including11:

    graph-month-range

    In addition, the annual Monitoring the Future survey results issued by the National Institute on Drug Abuse reflect that in 2011, the percentage of underage youth who admitted drinking an alcohol beverage in the prior 30-day period were represented as follows12:

    graph-month

    Such findings, in addition to the perceived inadequacy of enforcement efforts on and around university campuses in the United States, have raised questions about the efficacy of the nationwide minimum drinking age limit of 21-years old. In 2008, college presidents from about 100 of the best-known U.S. universities called on lawmakers to consider a national debate about the possible benefits of lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, suggesting that current laws may actually encourage binge drinking on campuses.

    The Amethyst Initiative, which falls under the umbrella of the Choose Responsibility organization (www.chooseresponsibility.org), is based on a rationale that college students will drink whether it is legal or not – but if it is illegal, are more likely to do so in a “culture of dangerous, clandestine binge-drinking.”13 In addition to a national debate on the drinking age, they are encouraging increased education possibly tied with licensing if the age were lowered. This is an aspect of the policy dialogue which draws focus to the United States, as it is one of only a few countries with a legal drinking age of 21.14 The various viewpoints on this topic, however, touch on research and observations from around the world.

    ADVERTISING

    The marketing of beverage alcohol is a topic which has attracted a great deal of research, as well as media attention. In particular, there has been significant focus on the relationship between marketing and alcohol consumption by underage youth, as well as young peoples’ expectations about the experience they will have if they consume alcohol.

    To briefly summarize this well-researched subject: Although a causal link between advertising and underage consumption has not been established, a limited number of studies have shown modest correlations between advertising and alcohol consumption by underage youth and young adults who are of college age. Such studies have, in turn, been refuted by other research.15 Yet the fact remains that advertising of alcohol beverages is a matter for serious policy consideration, especially where there is concern that such advertisements may in some way attract the attention of underage youth.

    In its assessment of alcohol advertising in 2008, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) noted the importance of “changing adult attitudes” about teen alcohol consumption, citing it as one of the factors behind its launch of the “We Don’t Serve Teens” consumer education program. The program targets parents and other adults with messages such as: “Don’t serve alcohol to teens. It’s unsafe. It’s illegal. It’s irresponsible.” (For more information and research citations on this topic, see The Issues Forum entry on Underage Drinking.)

    In April 2012, the FTC issued an order to 14 major beverage alcohol producers, including Brown-Forman, to provide data for the agency’s fourth major study of the industry’s self regulation practices to reduce ads and marketing to underage youth. For the first time, the agency has requested information on Internet and digital marketing and data collection practices.16

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  • PREVENTION AND EDUCATION

    The primary rationale behind legislating minimum drinking ages is the prevention of certain harms which could result from underage youth consuming alcohol before they are physically or emotionally ready to do so. Yet research shows that imposing legal restrictions on access to beverage alcohol, in and of itself, is not an adequate prevention measure. Key influences such as parents, other family members, peers, educators, and role models contribute to young peoples’ choices about whether or not they decide to drink1.

    In efforts to prevent and stop underage drinking, programs have been developed and customized for various audiences, with these key influencers in mind.

    Most experts agree that parents talking with their children about drinking can play a key role in preventing the negative effects of underage drinking. For example, in the U.S., an ongoing public outreach campaign sponsored by SAMHSA, the Office of the Surgeon General, and the Ad Council encourages parents to speak with their children early and often about the negative effects of underage drinking, and offers tips for how to have these discussions2. For more on this subject, see The Issues Forum entry on Underage Drinking.

    INTERVENTIONS

    A number of intervention approaches have proven to be successful in influencing the decisions that underage youth make about alcohol. Early identification of problem drinking, followed by brief interventions aimed at modifying behavior, can help minimize harm among individuals who are alcohol abusers but not dependent. Such programs range from social norms marketing (aimed at correcting peer misperceptions) to server training programs and life skills programs in schools and communities3. Examples of such programs from across Europe are summarized in the annual EFRD/CEPS brochure on alcohol industry initiatives developed to help reduce alcohol-related harm (at www.efrd.org). In addition, examples of such efforts in the United States can be found at www.mystrongfamily.com and www.talkaboutalcohol.com.

    RESPONSIBLE MARKETING AND AD PLACEMENTS

    There are well-established industry codes for responsible marketing worldwide—codes which comprehensively address the importance of marketing and advertising practices which are directed to only consumers of legal drinking age. These codes include the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) Code of Responsible Practices for Beverage Alcohol Advertising and Marketing and similar codes of responsibility established by The Beer Institute and The Wine Institute, the European Spirits Association (CEPS), the European Forum for Responsible Drinking (EFRD) Common Standards on Commercial Communications, the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia (DSICA), the Brewers Association of Japan and the Japan Spirits & Liquors Makers Association, and the Portman Group in the United Kingdom.

    Two key elements of such codes are industry standards for ad content as well as ad placement. Ad content standards in the U.S. include commitments similar to those found in the Brown-Forman Marketing, Advertising, and Promotional Policy, which specifies that:

    • Ads should not feature children, cartoon figures, or anything that appeals primarily to persons below the legal drinking age.
    • There should be no suggestion that alcohol use represents a “rite of passage” to adulthood.
    • There should be no suggestion that drinking alcohol is a means to attain success.
    • Models and actors employed must be a minimum of 25-years old, and appear to be at least 21-years old.

    The U.S. industry standard for ad placements is a commitment to directing marketing to adults of legal drinking age, and to advertising only in media with audiences that are 70 percent legal drinking age or older (Brown-Forman has taken an additional step of planning our placements to deliver total cumulative impressions by brand and by media to average at least an 80 percent LDA audience. For more information, see http://www.brown-forman.com/responsibility/4.

    ENFORCEMENT AND COMMUNITY

    The importance of consistent and visible enforcement of minimum drinking age laws is supported by the research as well as by virtually all stakeholders on record in this arena5. In addition, as pointed out recently by the WHO, it is vitally important to take into account that “community-based action, with appropriate engagement of different stakeholders, can effectively reduce the harmful use of alcohol” and “….bolster other policy measures at the community level”6.

    THE STRONG INFLUENCE OF PARENTS AND OTHER FAMILY MEMBERS

    A recent survey commissioned by the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org) asked teens, ‘Where do you get the alcohol that you drink?’ Sixty-five percent of the underage youth surveyed said that they got the alcohol they drink from family and friends, meaning they got it from their parents, their friends’ parents, older siblings or family members or older friends, with or without permission. Education and prevention programs such as the Responsibility.org’s “Ready or Not” initiative stem from research results such as 97 percent of kids claiming they believe they have enough information to make the right decisions about drinking—yet half of the sixth through 12th graders surveyed reported drinking alcohol within the past month7.

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