Published on April 13th, 2016 | by Deb Wolf0
Policy Advances Healthy Choices about Alcohol:
Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice for our Youth
By John Boyer
Current prEvents April 11, 2016 Times Argus
Through our combined effort, the agencies facilitating the Washington County Partnership for Success grant have worked with a variety of people committed to supporting healthy communities. Our work in the county has given us the opportunity to learn about conditions in Central Vermont and to consider the overall impact of alcohol use on the health of youth. We have come to appreciate how committed people are to helping our young people succeed.
While there are a variety of conditions in the environment that support positive youth development, we believe conditions can be improved by enacting regulations and practices that change social behavior around alcohol. For example, by using alcohol policy to reduce or eliminate the presence of alcohol in public spaces and at community events, we demonstrate to our young people that alcohol is not a central part of community. In addition to the improvements that can be made through policy, there are non-regulatory efforts that can also influence youth to make positive choices. These efforts include stores keeping alcohol coolers away from soft drink coolers or promotion of alcohol-free events.
Learning how best to incorporate policy into town ordinances with a goal to support youth growing up in Central Vermont can present challenges. While most adults share a common concern for the wellbeing of young people, there is a broad range of understanding among adults as to how to develop alcohol policies that are in the best interest of community.
We are fortunate to have state alcohol policies in place that provide clear examples of how policies work in support of young people. If we did not have policies that require people who sell or serve alcohol to verify customers are of legal drinking age and enforce limits, then the rate of alcohol consumption by minors would obviously increase. It is because of policies like this that we can be proud the retail outlets, bars, and restaurants in our area routinely train their employees to check IDs and therefore successfully pass Department of Liquor Control compliance checks. This limits access to minors.
Beyond state laws and policies, local entities can discuss alcohol use in public and community settings, such as limiting alcohol use in town buildings or during community activities, and/or making any restrictions on advertising, or the number of stores selling alcohol. By taking discussions like these seriously and acting on them, communities stand to impact, in new ways, the perception that drinking alcohol is the norm. By weighing in on these topics and learning to act on them, we will take positive steps to reduce the negative impact that alcohol is having on the health of our young people.
When it comes to the challenges our youth are having with alcohol and other harmful substances, our partnership also believes a regional approach is important. Young people’s experiences are not confined to the community in which they live. Environmental influences contributing to this issue are part of the larger context of corporate advertising, media, and exchanges among communities. Many youth in rural areas travel to district schools where they interact with students from other towns. We stand to genuinely support healthy youth by sharing between communities the policy related experiences, questions, and examples of our select boards and other concerned citizens.
This idea has already been promoted in our neighboring county of Lamoille, who developed a document that shares non-regulatory ideas and policy approaches for supporting the health of their communities, county-wide. The Primer on Planning for Prevention, developed by the Lamoille County Planning Commission and Healthy Lamoille Valley, can inspire discussions about prevention policy that would benefit our county. You can read it at http://www.healthylamoillevalley.org/healthy-communities/primer/.
Let’s continue asking critical questions about how young people are experiencing their world today. Applying the use of policy to promote the health and safety of a community is not a new concept. Over the years tobacco policy has brought smoking rates down. We can learn from that with respect for alcohol and other substances. The degree of change that comes with time and between generations warrants our attention to continue developing our understanding of how policy can work to make the healthy choice the easy choice for our young people.
Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility (Executive Summary, The National Academies Press 2004) http://www.nap.edu/read/10729/chapter/2
April is “Alcohol Awareness Month.” For parents: http://www.talkearlyandoften.org/
John Boyer is a program director for the Washington County Youth Service Bureau and works with the Vermont Department of Health and Central Vermont New Directions Coalition implementing the Partnership for Success Grant, which is directed at reducing binge drinking and prescription drug misuse among youth. Jboyer@wcysb.org 802-229-9151
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 grant from the Vermont Department of Health.
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