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Like many others, I was disappointed to read in the Juneau Empire that over half of Juneau's liquor stores were willing to sell alcohol to 21-year-old buyers without ID. I assume many of the non-carding stores are serving teenagers unknowingly. However, this is not the only source of alcohol for teens. In a survey conducted last year, 13 percent of Juneau's sixth-graders said an adult they knew well had offered them alcohol. Nationally, one-third of sixth- to ninth-graders said they obtain alcohol from their own home. Additionally, the average American child has seen an estimated 1 million alcohol ads by the time she is 18. Are we surprised 37 percent of Juneau's sixth-graders reported having consumed a drink of alcohol in the past year?
People who think preventing underage drinking is a waste of time also should consider teenage motor vehicle fatalities, homicides, suicides, rape, pregnancies, STDs and crime. Underage drinking contributes significantly to all of these.
Preventing access to alcohol is a key factor in preventing underage drinking. If we as a community put time and resources into preventing teen drinking we will save the cost of repairing the damage underage drinking creates. Locally, we should stop teen drinking parties and monitor liquor establishments. Statewide, we should hire more Alcohol Beverage Control officers. There is only one ABC field officer to keep track of all the licensees from Cordova to Metlakatla. Nationally, we need to reconsider our policy of allowing the alcohol industry to monitor its own advertising.
One simple and inexpensive way for the city to ensure teens are not buying alcohol is to require everyone - young or old - to show ID before purchasing it. Clerks would be much better at identifying and refusing to sell to minors with fake or no ID. The adults of Juneau would simply have to be willing to take a little extra time to show some ID. Is that too much to ask?
I'm not forgetting about the person mostly responsible for underage drinking: the teen who obtains and consumes alcohol. It's important we help our children build strong relationships, healthy hobbies and the confidence to resist dangerous influences. It is also important that there are strict consequences when they break laws. Just for today, though, let's look at how we as a society encourage our youth to drink. Then, let's do what we can to change it.