Drink too much over the long holiday weekend?

No doubt many people did - including many teenagers.

Underage drinking is a problem that never goes away. Particularly at the shore, despite the best efforts of police, bar owners and others. And particularly in the nation's colleges and universities, where binge drinking is something of an epidemic.

Last week, the state Senate approved a bill creating the Task Force on Underage Drinking in Higher Education. The idea is to study the various policies and procedures that institutions of higher learning have used in an attempt to curtail underage drinking and assess which policies work best. The task force will also review all state laws concerning underage drinking.

It's hard to argue with the idea of setting up a task force (after all, editorial writers call for it all the time ... when they can't think of a better approach to a problem or issue). And this one, at least, will include college students and proprietors of liquor stores or bars near college campuses, in addition to the usual public-safety, public-health and education officials.

But no task force is going to stop underage drinking.

And this task force would be particularly unfortunate if its mandate to study all of New Jersey's laws regarding underage drinking becomes a reason to delay a very sensible measure currently pending in the state Senate - a measure that could save lives this summer.

The bill is a pet project of Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, a Monmouth County Republican who works in the substance-abuse field (the Senate version is co-sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland). It would create a "safe haven" for underage drinkers who seek medical help for a friend who has drunk too much.

Too often, teens hesitate to seek help for a friend in an alcohol-related medical emergency because they are worried they will be charged with underage drinking. Under this measure, teens who do the right thing and seek help would be exempt from prosecution.

The bill was approved unanimously in the Assembly. But we're worried the state Senate version could be held up by the creation of the new task force, which is a pet project of Senate President Richard J. Codey, D-Essex. If that happens, it would be a shame.

We can understand a hesitancy to create a new law on underage drinking before the new task force conducts its review - and the legislation specifically mentions reviewing "Good Samaritan" policies. But Angelini's bill could have an immediate, beneficial effect.

Meanwhile, the legislation creating the Task Force on Underage Drinking in Higher Education makes no mention of the issue that prompted its creation - a call by a group of college and university presidents to begin a nationwide discussion of lowering the drinking age from 21.

And as counterintuitive as that might sound, lowering the drinking age should be part of any legitimate review of the problem of underage drinking.

Opponents of lowering the drinking age say statistics prove that countless lives have been saved since the drinking age was raised to 21. The problem is, many of today's adults were in college when many states (including New Jersey) set the drinking age at 18. Many colleges even operated their own pubs - and the kind of dangerous, even deadly, binge drinking that goes on today did not occur with anywhere near the same frequency. That, too, is a fact.

Discusssion of lowering the drinking age should be on the new task force's agenda.

And the Senate should pass the safe-haven law.

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