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HAGATNA, Guam — Local voters will have the option this fall to change the legal age to drink alcohol on the island from 18 to 21, according to Guam elections officials and local advocacy groups.

The initiative, called Proposal A on the ballot, would raise the minimum age to drink or buy alcohol to 21. That would mean the drinking age at military base restaurants and bars also would increase from 18 to 21, local military spokesmen said this week.

Proponents say the change would limit drunken-driving cases and create a healthier environment for teens and young adults.

“We believe it’s about saving lives and saving families,” said Monique Baysingar, the president of Guam’s Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter and a member of Coalition 21, the group promoting the law change.

Opponents say the proposal would do little to curb alcohol abuse and that more strict laws on drunken driving and underage possession of alcohol would make a bigger difference.

“Our view is the proposal targets the wrong group,” said Anita Arriola, a lawyer and treasurer of Responsible Choices for all Adults, the group opposing the proposal. “This is like a feel-good solution. Not all of Guam’s problems will be solved by this.”

Four years ago, a similar proposal was defeated by 3,000 votes out of 45,000 cast.

This year, the vote could prove closer, according to Baysingar. She and other supporters have added language to the initiative that will allow people ages 18-20 to still serve alcohol even though they wouldn’t be able to drink it. That change may make a difference in the vote, she said.

Four years ago, Guam’s Hotel and Restaurant Association opposed raising the drinking age because the exclusion of younger waiters in bars and restaurants would have cost 200 to 300 people their jobs, said David Tydingco, the association’s president.

“We didn’t believe that was a fair thing to do,” he said.

Now, the group’s 200 members are voting to decide whether to endorse or oppose the plan. That poll should be completed in a few weeks, Tydingco said.

Arriola said she doesn’t believe the initiative will pass, in part because of the possible cut to the tourism industry but also because of Guam’s strong feelings about patriotism and the military.

“Many people in Guam serve, vote, have families, go to war and contribute to the community by the time they are 18,” she said. “They are not allowed to have a beer?”

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