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Should the legal age for buying alcohol be raised to 21 years?


To the Editor: Toumbourou and colleagues argue that the Australian legal age for buying alcohol should be increased.1 However, they overstate their case by only citing research that supports their position, giving an impression of scientific consensus on several key issues when there is strong contrary evidence.

They consider the effects of legal access to alcohol on traffic safety. But they neglect to mention the only recent Australian evidence on this topic, which found that legal access did not increase the risk of serious motor vehicle accidents in New South Wales.2 They also cite research suggesting that lowering the buying age from 20 to 18 years in New Zealand impaired traffic safety, based on an increase in accidents involving alcohol among 18–19-year-olds relative to 20–24-year-olds after the policy change.3 However, a follow-up study found that the crash rate for 18–19-year-olds was rising relative to the older comparison group before the policy change was enacted, and that there was no evidence that the policy change affected traffic safety.4

They also dismiss the possibility that alcohol and illicit drugs may be substitutes for each other, ignoring recent contrary evidence.5,