July 25, 2008
Many of us either have children or have friends who have children under the age of 21. Often, I wonder whether parents and their children are aware of a major health problem affecting that age group – underage alcohol consumption. Last Friday, I attended the Orange County Underage Drinking Task Force meeting in Orlando. The meeting opened with a startling statistic; according to Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty about 5,000 people under the age of 21 die each year as a result of alcohol consumption.
The Department's Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ABT) is a very active part of the Task Force, which is studying why people under 21 drink and what can be done to reduce the numbers. There are some alarming statistics that demonstrate the need for collaborative, solution-oriented action. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol is the most commonly abused drug among youth in the U.S. Youth, between the ages of 12 and 20, account for 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the U.S.
The Task Force has assembled key entities that touch the lives and can affect change among the underage. The Task Force is Co-Chaired by Mr. Rich Morrison, Regional Vice President of Florida Hospital, and Mr. Mike McCoy, Director of Orange County Public Safety. Other members represent the following: University of Central Florida, Orange County Drug Free Coalition, Valencia Community College, Rollins College, Orange County Medical Director's Office, State Attorney's Office, and other agencies in the area. In addition, the alcohol industry, including Wayne Densch Inc., Schenck Company and local retailers are represented by sitting board members.
ABT Captain Mark Bong gave a presentation on the recent "Project Graduation" operation that was conducted by the Task Force in conjunction with many local police departments. "Project Graduation" involved both education and enforcement – two components of ABT's three-tiered approach to combating underage drinking (the third being prevention). ABT and partners sent approximately 2,600 letters and posters to retailers encouraging licensed businesses to keep the graduating, underage students alcohol free.
The enforcement segment of the operation was designed to determine the level of compliance within the licensed retailers in the Orange County area, making sure that they only sold alcohol to people 21 and over. The results revealed that 28 out of 221 businesses checked sold alcohol to the underage for an 87 percent compliance rate.
Dr. Virginia Dodd, Associate Professor at the University of Florida, presented a field study she conducted at drinking establishments near UF. The study analyzed drink specials that were geared towards the underage around campus. Previous research indicates that as the price of alcohol decreases, rates of alcohol consumption and alcohol problems increase. No research has examined the direct effects that bar-sponsored drink specials have on patrons exiting bars, especially college students in campus communities.
Dr. Dodd's research revealed that taking advantage of a drink special was associated with a four-fold increase in the risk of exiting a bar in a highly intoxicated state. This is the first study to document that the drink discounting practices of college bars can be linked to greater alcohol consumption and higher levels of intoxication among exiting patrons.
For this reason, I feel strongly that it is important to have members of the alcohol industry on the Task Force. The vast majority of alcohol licensees is responsible and works closely with task forces, such as this one, to protect our children by reducing the opportunities for them to drink alcohol. ABT has worked closely with the industry in the past and will continue to partner with them in the future to encourage responsible vendors in the state and keep our children safe.
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PROFESSIONAL BOARD NEWSLETTERS
About 5,000 people under the age of 21 die each year as a result of alcohol consumption. The Department's Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ABT) is a very active part of the Orange County Underage Drinking Task Force, which is studying why people under 21 drink and what can be done to reduce the numbers.