A New Crisis: France and England Crack Down on Alcohol

Joie de vivre is about to get a lot less joyful for France's free-swilling teens and tweens. The latest move in a history of steps that nod toward American-style parochialism, Sarkozy has announced plans to raise the national drinking age from 16 to 18.

The current law permits the purchase of beer and wine at 16 and hard liquor at 18. But stores rarely ask for identification and, if met with a raised Gallic eyebrow, the "it's for my parents" line gets a lot of mileage.

(This blogger first bought alcohol--a hellish vintage called Vieux Papes--in Rouen when he was fourteen and a half and everything worked out just fine.) The new legislation officially aims at curbing la biture, or binge drinking, which has taken French youth culture by storm. Alcohol-related hospitalizations jumped 50% from 2004 to 2007 for 15 to 24-year-olds.

With a market worth $12 billion, the French wine industry is not enthusiastic about the proposed legislation, though they will still be able to advertise alcohol on the internet, a significant new venue for advertising

Across the Channel, a proposal to raise alcohol prices significantly by Britain's top medical officer, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, was shot down by Gordon Brown who said he was responding to a "sensible majority of moderate drinkers" by nixing the change. Big Think guest and Times UK correspondent Sarah Lyall would likely disagree with the sensible modifier, but that's just one view from the field.

Both the French and British proposals signal a cultural shift in two nations long celebrated for their alcohol production and consumption. What kind of attitudes will follow if the French legislation passes? Is it possible alcohol will develop the cultish overtones it carries in more restrictive countries like the United States and Saudi Arabia? Or will kids just get craftier and remain one step ahead of the game?

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