Curbing underage drinking takes a community effort

Monday, December 17, 2007

The holiday season is upon us, and Christmas parties and New Year's celebrations are just around the corner. Unfortunately, the holiday season also is often soaked in alcohol, sometimes with tragic endings.

The best way to keep minors from illegally buying and drinking alcohol is not to lecture them about the evils of drinking or force them to watch grisly films of drunken-driving wrecks.

Those approaches have their place, but research confirms that the best defense against underage drinking is a good offense — increased enforcement of minimum-age purchase and minor-in-possession laws.

We support the upcoming — and unannounced — crackdown on underage drinking by undercover officers who will accompany people posing as underage customers looking to get a drink at local bars.

While officers are at it, they should also focus attention on adults who drink at bars and then get in their cars to drive while intoxicated.

While the holiday crackdown is not the result of any complaints or increase in underage drinking, Pensacola Police Department officials said they typically pay more attention to underage drinking during the holidays and summer when there are a lot of graduation parties.

Like underage drinking, drunken driving is a national crisis and an avoidable tragedy waiting to happen. The 1,719 DUI arrests made in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties alone last year are enough reasons to warrant aggressive crackdowns and enforcement.

Even though the legal drinking age is 21 in all 50 states, too many adults, including parents, view underage drinking as a rite of passage — and do nothing to stop it.

This is a dangerous approach. Studies show that children who drink are at greater risk of becoming alcoholics later in life, and are more likely to drive while drunk and cause harm to themselves and others.

To protect minors and discourage underage drinking, state lawmakers should consider legislation that would impose civil liability and tougher penalties on those who sell or provide alcoholic beverages to underage drinkers, as well as those who own or control premises on which underage drinking takes place. The law would include retailers and bars/restaurants that illegally sell or provide alcohol to underage people.

But laws and police undercover stings will not solve the problem. We must focus special attention on illegal underage drinking and do our part to prevent drunken driving.

This requires a community effort. It means involvement of parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, friends and neighbors. It also means the participation of educators, legislators, law enforcement and establishments that sell and serve alcohol.

The holiday season should be a time to safely have fun with family and friends.

Let us not revisit the holiday tragedies of recent years in which innocent lives were needlessly lost. Don't become an "enabler" by allowing underage children to drink. Remember, the life you save could be the life of someone you know.

Pensacola News Journal