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Published on August 15th, 2016 | by Deb Wolf

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Local Businesses are Key in Preventing Underage Drinking

Current prEvents   August 15, 2016   Times Argus

Local Businesses Are Key Players in Preventing Underage Drinking

By Ann Gilbert, Director, Central Vermont New Directions Coalition

For businesses that sell or serve beer, wine, alcohol, or tobacco products, there are ways that they can play a major role in helping to reduce some of Vermont’s valid concerns about youth engaging in drinking and smoking.

The Vermont Department of Liquor Control (DLC) is a statewide organization playing a key role in addressing underage drinking in Vermont. They do this proactively by training all employees, sellers, and servers of alcohol to ask for proof of age, check IDs, and stay informed of safe practices. These skills prevent sales to minors or to intoxicated customers. DLC also checks up on stores, bars and restaurants to make sure they aren’t selling to youth under 21 (kind of like a sting operation.) The results of these “compliance checks” are publicized. Since DLC also oversees tobacco licenses, they work on tobacco sales as well.

How did this start

Years ago, students reported on the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) that local stores were a major source of alcohol and tobacco for Vermont youth. In an effort to decrease underage drinking, and prevent youth from using tobacco products, compliance checks were created, starting with tobacco checks in stores in the mid -1990s. Alcohol compliance checks in stores began a couple of years after that, followed by checks in restaurants and bars. Once the compliance checks had been in place for a few years, less than 4 % of the teens reported that they could purchase alcohol or tobacco in a store.

The compliance checks are conducted under a very strict protocol that was established by the Vermont Attorney General’s Office. The Liquor Control Board found that having investigators sit outside stores in a covert manner to monitor for underage sales was not an efficient method for determining compliance.  It was simpler to employ underage youth and quickly determine whether or not the licensee was in compliance – did they sell to minors or not. It requires the underage buyer to not misrepresent their age and when asked they must produce their correct driver’s license showing they are underage.  The minor must also be monitored during the process, so an undercover investigator is sent into the store with the minor. It is the responsibility of the sellers and servers to examine identification to be sure the buyer is legal.

It is really important for all employees to do this part of their job, and do it well. Each employee must be certified before they sell alcohol or tobacco products and must be re-certified every two years. They can attend either a DLC seminar or access a 24/7 online training and test for $25, or get trained by a certified employer or manager with the DLC materials. Each business must keep every current employee certificate in a folder or binder for easy access at all times for a Liquor Control Investigator or a Vermont Law Enforcement Officer.

Employees have to carefully check IDs and be confident and comfortable enough to refuse a sale if necessary. If they mess up, fines can be hefty and license suspensions could hurt business.

Is it helping?

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), Vermont ranks the highest in drinking rates among youth aged 12-20 at 37%. This is a public health problem which needs regional prevention partnerships in order to reduce youth use. The 2015 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) data shows that 21% of high school students reported ever smoking an entire cigarette (a decline from 27% in 2011.)

With the support of DLC’s and retailers’ diligent work, these numbers could continue to decrease. The 2015 YRBS survey also showed that 30% of high school students reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days and that the main source was getting it at home or from others. Therefore, parents play a big role in helping reduce teen drinking as well by not supplying alcohol to kids or hosting underage drinking parties, and by monitoring adult beverages kept at home.

Appreciation!

Congratulations to the many local businesses that have passed their compliance checks this past year and are checking IDs and not selling alcohol and tobacco to minors. The Vermont Department of Health includes goals to reduce underage and binge drinking and decrease the youth smoking rates. Prevention advocates Central Vermont New Directions Coalition and Washington County Youth Service Bureau partner with Vermont Department of Liquor Control by promoting the Responsible Beverage Service trainings and by recognizing the large number of retailers and servers in Washington County who have passed their compliance checks. Certificates are distributed and stores, restaurants and bars are listed in local papers. It is good to recognize these businesses that are doing their part to help keep kids safe and move toward healthy statewide goals for Vermont communities.

RESOURCES:

For DLC training seminars, visit liquorcontrol.vermont.gov/education or call (802) 828-2339 for dates and locations

Information on teen substance use and strategies for parents at http://parentupvt.org/

Current PrEvents is produced by the Central Vermont New Directions Coalition, Montpelier, Vermont, in collaboration with the Washington County Youth Service Bureau, as part of the Partnership for Success and Regional Prevention Partnerships grants from the Vermont Department of Health.

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