Much to the surprise of Italian restaurant and bar owners, a government proposal to raise Italy’s legal age for buying alcohol from 16 to 18 has been included in a draft of the 2007 budget. Many restaurant and bar owners in Italy believe they should have been consulted before the proposal was included in the budget.
The penalty for disobeying the law will be stiff. Fines will range between €3,000 and 6,000 (approximately $3,900 to $7,500 US) for anyone caught selling alcohol to someone under the age of 18.
It is hoped by the government that raising the drinking age will reduce the number of alcohol related traffic accidents. Many Italians recognize that the high level of traffic accidents is related to alcohol consumption. About 200 Italian teenagers die every year as a result of accidents involving drinking and driving.
The drinking age in France, Germany and several other European Union countries is 16; however it is 18 in the UK and 21 in the US.
Some members of Prime Minister Prodi’s coalition say they knew nothing in advance about the proposals on drinking, and have said they will fight to get them removed from the budget before it receives final parliamentary approval by the end of December.
“It sends a repressive and prohibitionist message to young people, and it could have the opposite effect to that intended – making the abuse of alcoholic drinks more attractive,” said Gennaro Migliore, a communist legislator.
“I wonder if it’s really true that you can change people’s lifestyles with prohibition,” said Lino Stoppani, president of the Italian Federation of Trading Concerns. Fipe represents Italian bars, cafés, restaurants, pizzerias and nightcubs.
Critics of the new law often point to the long history and culture of drinking in Italy. They point out that Italians learn to drink moderate amounts of wine and beer at a young age (often under 14) at the family dinner table and local family oriented restaurants.
“What are we doing? Are we forbidding 16-year-olds or 17-year-olds from drinking a beer in a pizzeria? If so, things will go as they did in the 1970s in England, where lads waited outside pubs for their friends to bring them something to drink,” said Professor Enrico Tempesta of the Rome-based Permanent Observatory on Youth and Alcohol.
Many Italians believe that the proposal to increase the drinking age is inconsistent with the proposal being considered by the government to reduce the penalty for possessing small amounts of some drugs.