October 21, 1994. A phone call changed everybody’s life in our family forever. The call was to inform us that my brother – Aurobindo, then all of 19 years – had died in a road accident on the Gurgaon highway. A speeding bus hit the motorbike on which he was the pillion rider. Post his death, we set up the Aurobindo Chaudhuri Great Indian Dream Foundation, and have always had road safety concerns amongst our goals. So, I am most concerned about road safety especially on highways. No one, I am sure, can question that.
Yet, I am against the recent ban on liquor shops on highways in India. I am actually against most moral bans. Bihar and Gujarat have put a ban on alcohol consumption. Controversies continue around it in Goa and Kerala and now the big blow has been the order to shut down liquor shops on all highways across India from April 1.
Yet, just like we have a minimum age for getting married all over the world, minimum age for a driver’s licence and minimum age for voting, I believe we must have a minimum age for allowing people to consume harmfully addictive stuff that is the reason behind a plethora of deaths, daily fights, wife-beating, drain of hard-earned money for the poor families and unhappiness across the globe.
With the effective control of alcohol consumption in mind, the government of Delhi, and then Maharashtra, Haryana and Chandigarh increased the minimum age for drinking from 21 years to 25 years. But this move evoked widespread criticism from young people and certain sections of the media too. Even Bollywood actor Imran Khan apparently was contemplating a PIL, and opined that if one can vote at 18, it is absurd that one can’t have a good time with a glass of drink before 25!
At the IIPM Think Tank we have vehemently disagreed with such thinkers, and recommended that not only drinking, but even cigarette smoking should be allowed only for individuals aged 27 and above.
Global studies have proven that the longer one delays consumption of alcohol, the less the chances of alcohol addiction (Grant, Stinson, Harford, Boston University Study). This is due to the fact that alcohol ensures that the brain develops mechanisms that “change neural function induced by chronic ethanol consumption leading to the development of [alcohol] dependence” (Weiss and Porrino; Neuroscience Journal).
AT THE IIPM THINK TANK WE RECOMMEND THAT NOT ONLY DRINKING, BUT EVEN CIGARETTE SMOKING SHOULD BE ALLOWED ONLY FOR INDIVIDUALS AGED 27 AND ABOVE
Additionally, the brain stabilizes in growth only between the age limits of 22 and 30 (University of Washington data, Eric Chudler). And once the brain has grown, the chances of getting addicted to anything are far lesser. So logically, one should have the right of choosing an addictive and proven harmful product only after the brain has fully grown. National Bureau of Economic Research (Working Paper No. 5200) confirms that “the prevalence of alcohol dependence and abuse is highest in the age range” of 17 to 27.
Logically therefore, rather than appearing unlettered and demanding that the state governments reduce drinking age, we should be recommending that the same be increased to 27. “As many as 80% of alcoholics smoke,” confirm Miller and Gold, University of Illinois, in their study in the Journal of Addictive Diseases. That, in fact, strengthens the concept that even cigarette smoking should be made illegal for people aged below 27.
As for road accidents, the prime reason for such an order by the Supreme Court of India, I don’t believe that anyone who wants to drink would mind a 500 metre detour to get his drink. So this ban won’t work.
To control road accidents, we must have extremely strict driving tests for driving licence and stricter punishments for each violation of traffic rules with the impounding of the licence forever after say 5 to 7 traffic rule violations. Immediately you will see how everyone starts being extremely cautious and well-behaved on roads. For those caught with alcohol in their breath/blood beyond the prescribed limit, even once, let their licence be cancelled forever. Such rules will immediately change the safety not just on highways but also on normal roads. Doing this of course requires commitment, sincerity, honesty and a lot of hard work. Announcing a populist sounding ban makes more news despite its zero effect.
Rest I leave the case open for the valued opinion of my readers.
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