An Alaskan lawmaker has suggested that if soldiers under the age of 21 are entitled to risk their lives abroad, then they should be able to indulge in drinking and smoking too.
State Rep. Bob Lynn is proposing a bill that would allow military members in his state under the age of 21 to legally drink and smoke, despite resistance from Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Lynn says he doesn’t want to promote unhealthy habits among soldiers, but he believes that all members of the army should be treated as adults, “regardless of age.” This has been strongly opposed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, who believe the federal law “saves lives and protects still-developing young minds.”
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The controversial booze debate dates back to the Vietnam War, when 29 states lowered their drinking age to either 18,19 or 20. But by 1988, the federal government intervened and almost all states raised their minimum age for drinking to 21. Those that refused the new law would face a 10% reduction in federal highway spending. That means that if Lynn’s bill passes, Alaska would lose $50 million in federal highway funds.
Robert Gates’ biggest concern is that allowing soldiers under 21 to drink would encourage dangerous behavior. At a House committee meeting, Gates said, “One of the things we’re seeing as a result of repeated tours is not just an increase in suicides but an increase in risky behaviors, particularly by young men. And so that would be a concern of mine.” He may have a point; the National Highway Traffic Society Administration (NHTSA) claims that alcohol traffic fatalities have been reduced by over 13% and more than 27,600 lives have been saved since 1975 as a result of minimum-age alcohol laws.
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