The Sugar House liquor store has a new addition to its lighting décor — a large neon light that says “Not Until 21.”
The sign, along with paper bags that read “Don’t drink contents until properly aged,” are part of a campaign introduced by ParentsEmpowered.org to combat underage drinking in Utah.
The Sugar House store, 1154 Ashton Ave, was the site of a press conference that launched the campaign on May 8. The conference featured Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, and Mary Anne Mantes, Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control liquor commissioner.
“There is no safe underage drinking. Period,” said Shurtleff. “Underage drinking can permanently damage the brains of growing adolescents.”
Shurtleff also said that the age of 21 was not some number that the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control pulled out of nowhere.
He cited some statistics about how underage drinking makes kids more susceptible to becoming addicted. Based on research provided by ParentsEmpowered.org, more than 40 percent of kids who begin drinking before the age of 15 will become alcohol dependant, 67 percent of young people who start drinking before the age of 15 will try an illicit drug and 59 percent of Utah parents are unaware that sixth grade-age kids are drinking.
Burbank talked about education being the most crucial factor in preventing underage drinking.
“Alcohol gets in the way of kids’ ability to make rational decisions,” he said. “When kids are under the influence of alcohol, it often sets off a chain reaction of events that leads to more crime or someone getting seriously hurt.”
Burbank said that it’s important to get this message out to parents because parental disapproval is the number one deterrent to underage drinking.
“If kids know the dangers and decide in advance that they won’t drink, it will be easier for them to resist the temptation and peer pressure if they are faced with the prospect of drinking,” he said.
ParentsEmpowered.org is a media and education campaign that began in September 2006 and is funded by the Utah Legislature. It is designed to reduce and prevent underage drinking in Utah by providing parents and guardians information about the harmful effects of alcohol on the developing brains of teenage kids.
The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is the lead agency for the campaign and is working with other state agencies including the Attorney General’s office, Department of Health, Department of Public Safety/Highway Patrol and Highway Safety Office, Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, Juvenile Court, State office of Education, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Utah Prevention Network and Utah Substance Abuse and the Anti-Violence Coordinating Council.
“It’s a community effort,” said Art Brown, president of Utah MADD. “It’s not just one organization, it’s everyone.”
Organizers of the campaign will introduce additional reminders that underage drinking is against the law. All 38 liquor stores in Utah will sport the neon sign and distribute the reminders to customers.
“It is our hope that these in-store campaigns will help adults make good judgments regarding underage drinking,” said Mantis.