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Utah campaign aims to curb underage drinking as holiday alcohol sales soar

Published: Thursday, Dec. 12 2013 1:20 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — More than a quarter of Utah children who drank alcohol in the past year say they got it at home with their parents' permission.

And among those who drank liquor in their own houses, 40.5 percent say they did it with the approval of parents, according to the 2013 Student Health and Risk Prevention survey.

Art Brown, representing the Utah chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, finds that disturbing.

"It's a big problem for parents to give their kids alcohol. It needs to stop," he said.

Brown helped kick off a Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control campaign Thursday urging parents to keep adult beverages away from children, especially during the holidays when liquor sales go up dramatically.

The state's 42 liquor stores and more than three dozen package agencies will display bottleneck hangers (Properly aged. Exclusively for drinkers over 21), checkout counter signs (Keep alcohol out of kids' reach) and wall posters (Parents: Worlds's best alcohol surveillance system) as messages to parents.

"It's just a little reminder to make sure that they understand youth and alcohol are not a good combination," said Doug Murakami, DABC alcohol education director who works with the state youth alcohol prevention website parentsempowered.org.

State liquor store sales jump during the holiday season, according to DABC. Sales increased from $24.3 million in November 2012 to $32.4 million in December 2012, a 33 percent boost.

DABC officials say that makes alcohol more readily available in homes and more accessible to children.

Brown said he doesn't think parents understand the damage alcohol does to a young person's brain or that it can make them more susceptible to addiction. If they did, he said, they wouldn't let their kids drink.

Parent attitudes toward drinking influences the attitude and behavior of their children, according to the health survey of students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades in 39 school districts and 14 charter schools across Utah. The state Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health oversees the survey.

Parental approval of moderate drinking, even under supervision, substantially increases the risk of the young person using alcohol, according to the survey. In families where parents involve children in their drinking, such as asking a child to get them a beer, increases the likelihood that their kids will drink before age 21.

The report showed that of children who thought their parents would find underage drinking "very wrong," only 4.5 percent had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days. It jumped to 29 percent among children who say their parents see it as "wrong." For those whose parents find it a "little bit wrong" or "not wrong at all," the figure went to 44 percent.

"It begins early and it begins heavy," Brown said, adding he believes most children drink to get drunk. "It's not a senior high problem. It's a sixth-grade problem."

Underage drinking dropped 2 percent from 2011 to 2013, but alcohol remains the most abused substance among young people in Utah and the country, Murakami said.

"We know if we can knock down underage drinking that that's going to help a lot of kids," he said.

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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