Dear Friends,
April is Alcohol Awareness Month, as as such, we must speak up about the harmful effects of alcohol on our country, with an urgent plea, specifically, for our state. Illinois is considering a bill (HB 494) to allow 18 to 20 year-olds to possess and consume beer and wine in a restaurant if they are with their parents, grandparents, step-parents or legal guardians.  We have some concerns with this proposed legislation, which I have highlighted below.
Here are a few things you need to know about HB 0494:
  • HB 0494 would allow 18-20 year olds to possess and consume beer and wine in a restaurant if they are with their parents, grandparents, step-parents, or legal guardians.  This sends the wrong message to children and adults about the harming effects of underage drinking.  When alcohol use is normalized, it is difficult for some youth to differentiate between a drink or two with parents at dinner and a drink or two (or 5) with friends on the weekend.
  • Many teens have different last names than a parent or step-parent.  HB0494 does not specify any process related to how restaurant owners and servers will know if the adults at the table are the actual parent, step-parent, grandparent, guardian, or someone else.
  • HB0494 does not specify the amount of drinks an establishment can dispense to youth, nor does it require an establishment to ensure that the youth aren’t driving.
  • Beer and wine are alcohol.  If these types of alcohol are approved, the Legislature could later change the bill to allow underage drinking of distilled spirits.
  • Underage drinking is dangerous, not only for the drinker but also for society.  Each year, approximately 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking; this includes about 1,900 deaths from motor vehicle crashes, 1,600 as a result of homicides, 300 from suicide, as well as hundreds from other injuries such as falls, burns, and drowning.  (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) 
  • The brain is developing and growing until young people are in their mid 20’s.  Exposing the brain to alcohol during this period may interrupt key processes of brain development, possibly leading to subtle learning impairments as well as to further escalation of drinking.  (Underage Drinking, A Growing Health Concern, NIAAA) 
  • The minimum drinking age of 21 was established to protect the health and safety of young people and to safeguard the public.  Research shows minimum legal drinking age laws have had positive effects primarily in decreasing traffic crashes and fatalities, suicide, binge drinking, and decreased consumption of alcohol by those under the age of 21.  (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) 
  • HB 0494 undermines the minimum drinking law and, in my opinion, should be rejected.
Here’s the truth: Underage drinking is already a problem in many of our communities! Let’s not create another avenue where youth can access alcohol – especially through a state-approved venue.
The following quote from Michael Hilton, Acting Deputy Director for Epidemiology and Prevention Research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, sums up my thoughts on this issue perfectly:
“Underage drinking is not safe, and it’s not the case that somehow the risk is removed because the parents provided it.”
You can take action:
  1. HB0494 is on it’s third reading, and could be called for a vote in the House at any time. Contact your State Representative to provide your thoughts on HB0494.
  2. Share this alert with concerned citizens in your neighborhood and community.
  3. Talk to your kids about the dangers of underage drinking, and your role as community members in taking action to make your community a safer place for all.
At this very minute, LEAD staff is at a Town Hall meeting with State Rep. Barbara Wheeler, the sponsor of HB0494.  We’re hoping to get some answers as to why this bill is even being proposed, and more specifically, what we can do as an organization and as a community to continue to fight the battle against underage drinking.  Please feel free to contact our office with any questions.
Andy Duran, Executive Director