Monday, March 16, 2009

Nous sommes tous des Américains ivres?

While President Obama seems intent on remaking America in the European mold, France is moving toward a more American approach to drinking (WSJ-sub req):

The government of President Nicolas Sarkozy has drafted the bill, which would raise France's minimum drinking age for wine and beer to 18 from 16. The government says it would reduce a dangerous addiction among youths. A vote on the bill is expected to take place Wednesday at the National Assembly, where it is likely to pass, as Mr. Sarkozy's center-right coalition has a majority of the votes. A final vote in the Senate could take place in April.

France has had a liberal approach to alcohol thus far. Unlike most other countries, France has two drinking ages: Young people can drink or purchase wine and beer from the age of 16 and hard liquor from 18. Bartenders and shopkeepers don't usually check the identification cards of their customers, however young.

The powerful lobby of French winemakers says it won't try to derail the law, but thinks the government is making a big mistake. A stricter law, winemakers say, could reverse the age-old French custom of parents teaching children how to taste and appreciate wine at the family meal.

The risk of the new law, they say, is a habit of binge drinking imported from the U.S., where the drinking age is 21, and the U.K., where studies show one in four adult men and one in three adult women are heavy drinkers.

"When I visited my daughter who was studying in the U.S., she couldn't drink a glass of wine at the restaurant because she was 20," says Marie-Christine Tarby, head of industry lobby group Vin & Société. "Back on the campus, all her friends were drunk every night -- is this what we are trying to do here?"

If past experience with the impact of prohibition on binge drinking is any indication, then that is exactly what the result will likely be in France.

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