Underage Drinking Town Hall Meeting

April 29, 2008

On April 29, 2008 The Coalition participated in a nation wide series of town hall meetings focused on underage drinking.  The town hall meetings were sponsored by several federal offices including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), the Office of National Drug Control Policy, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and others.

The purpose of the town hall meeting was to bring communities together to discuss underage drinking and begin working as unified partners in hopes of find solutions to this growing problem.

The South Salt Lake Town Hall Meeting on Underage Drinking was held in the Council Chambers at City Hall. The meeting was conducted by Rob Timmerman, Coalition Program Coordinator, in a panelist discussion and Q&A format.  The Panelists included Mayor Robert Gray, South Salt Lake, Chief Chris Snyder, SSLPD, Ben Reaves, Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, Doug Murakami, Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Helen Knipe, Utah Highway Safety Office, Officers Jerry Silva and Jennifer Smart, SSLPD, and Troy Bennett, SSL Recreation Department.

The meeting opened with a presentation that included national and state data on underage drinking, as well as information specific to South Salt Lake including the somber fact that youth in South Salt Lake are twice as likely to participate in underage drinking.  Of students polled in a recent survey that measures risk and protective factors in relation to substance use, 19.1% of sixth grade students, 55.9% of eighth grade students, and a combined 42% of 10th and 12th grade students reported using alcohol at least once in their lifetime.  The presentation also included ideas that give parents tools to talk to their kids about underage drinking, and pointed out that parental influence is the number one reason that kids don’t drink.

After the opening presentation, the panelists were given time for introductory remarks.  Each panelist spoke about their position in the community and the work they do relative to youth substance abuse prevention. Personal views were also shared on how the community can work together to accomplish goals of preventing underage drinking.  Chief Snyder spoke passionately about his feeling of responsibility for the safety of the youth of South Salt Lake adding that his own children are approaching the age at which they are beginning to make important choices regarding harmful behavior.

As part of his presentation, Doug Murakami from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, showed the harmful effects that alcohol can have on a developing brain.  Specifically, he stated that alcohol consumption directly affects the hippocampus, the part of the brain controlling decisions and rational thought.  New research shows that the hippocampus is still developing into the mid twenties.   He concluded that persons delaying the use of alcohol until adult age reduce the likelihood of alcohol addiction nearly completely.

Following the panelists’ remarks, the moderator opened up the question and answer session by directing audience questions to the panel.  The questions probed further information provided by the panelists.  One line of questions focused on the Eliminating Alcohol Sales to Youth (E.A.S.Y.) program and was directed toward Helen Knipe and Officer Silva.  Helen clarified the current fine structure for violating businesses that sell alcohol to minors, noting that the fine structure was negotiated with business and restaurant associations.  The general audience consensus was that the fine structure was not sufficient.  Helen stated that any changes to the fine structure would need to be legislated at the state level.

Other questions on the minds of many of who attended was “How can we get more people involved, or how can I get involved?”  Those questions spurred good discussion and the panelists all offered ideas that included attending and sponsoring more community events, getting businesses involved through Parentsempowered.org’s business education program, and using the SSLPD’s neighborhood and business watch.

The Town Hall Meeting was a wonderful opportunity for Coalition members, policy makers, and citizens to come together and share information and ideas on how to battle underage drinking in our community. The Coalition will take these ideas and expand this effort with a renewed vigor working with city and community leaders and any others willing to join the fight.

For more information on this and other Underage Drinking Town Hall Meetings visit http://www.stopalcoholabuse.gov/ and for tips on how to talk to your kids about alcohol visit http://www.parentsempowered.org/