Between now and May, meetings will be held around the state to battle underage drinking.

Organizers believe spring, the season for prom nights and graduation celebrations, is the ideal time to remind teens and parents that having a party doesn't mean having alcohol.

State substance abuse prevention workers are taking seriously a new law that underwrites the new ParentsEmpowered public education campaign.

They want parents to know that even though the age of first-time experimentation with alcohol has dipped to around 13, they are still the primary influence on whether their child decides to drink. To prove their point, they highlight statistics from the Utah Student Health and Risk Protection Survey (SHARP):

• 31 percent of Utah kids who had been drunk in the past year say their parents believed they didn't drink at all.

• 23 percent of surveyed eighth-graders have sampled alcohol.

• By the time they graduated from high school, nearly 38 percent of Utah kids have experimented with alcohol.

Those are troubling figures in a state with strict alcohol consumption laws, including some of the toughest prohibitions on selling alcohol to minors.

But that's where parents and community level education come in, said Ben Reaves, manager of the state division's prevention program. Parents, especially, need to communicate clear rules and expectations regarding alcohol.

"If a child gets through age 21 without smoking, abusing alcohol or using illegal drugs then he/she will probably never will," he said.

Although there has been a lot more press about methamphetamine and marijuana, Reaves points out, alcohol use threatens the safe and healthy development of more young people than any other substance — even more than tobacco.

The townhall-style meetings are part of a national effort. Joseph Califano, who is at the national front of substance abuse prevention and was in Salt Last week for a special two-day conference at the University of Utah, said community awareness is great, "but really stemming the tide is in the hands of the parents who must wake up and realize what's going on in their own households."

If kids in Utah are able to get alcohol where liquor is so controlled, they must be getting it either at home or from a family member, said the former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under Jimmy Carter and domestic advisor to Lyndon Johnson.

Apparently Utahns are willing to hear the message. The first of the town hall meetings was held in Cedar City on March 10 and 950 attended.

To obtain more information and to view the upcoming town hall meeting schedules, visit and