Pubdate: Sun, 08 Apr 2001
Source: Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN)
Copyright: 2001 The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.
Author: Richard Powelson


Many people remember the TV commercial of the young man holding a raw egg, 
calling it a brain, throwing it onto a hot skillet and saying: "This is 
your brain on drugs."

East Tennessee Rep. Zach Wamp wants a similar, memorable media campaign 
about underage drinking to lessen the illnesses, poor school performance 
and even death from this illegal, unhealthy pastime.

The Chattanooga Republican and a California Democrat, Rep. Lucille 
Roybal-Allard, have filed a bill to provide $1 million for a study by the 
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on the best approach for a 
five-year campaign to reduce underage drinking. The funding level for that 
remains to be determined.

Studies have shown that more than 2,000 youths aged 16 to 20 die each year 
from car crashes where alcohol was a factor. The minimum legal drinking age 
in every state is 21.

Twenty percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes, with ages of 15 to 20, 
were found in testing to have alcohol in their system.

A survey of high school students showed 40 percent of 10th-graders and 51 
percent of 12th-graders reported drinking alcohol within the past month.

Among Massachusetts youths who were sexually active, 44 percent said they 
were more likely to have sexual intercourse if they had been drinking.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that alcohol is 
the most used and abused drug among youth.

Yet the federal government is spending $1 billion on a campaign against 
youths using other drugs like cocaine and marijuana.

Many of us remember films shown in junior and senior high school meant to 
shock students into avoiding alcohol use. They showed bloody faces of dead 
teens amid twisted wreckage in highway ditches. It was shocking to see, but 
many students in my class believed that would never happen to them and went 
on with their lives, which included alcohol use before or after school events.

So, any new national media campaign will try to help students think of ways 
to avoid alcohol use.

Roybal-Allard, after talking to experts, came up with these examples.

When a youth is offered alcohol, she said, he or she could say: "No, I 
don't want a beer. I have to stay in shape for my team." (What if they're 
not on a team?) Or, "Nah, I'd rather have a soda." (What if only alcohol is 
available?) Would these lines be effective? Would youths actually say this? 
Perhaps focus groups with youths will determine that or find better responses.

Many parents who are pretty sure their kids are not using alcohol or 
illegal drugs will say it is because of example and education at home, the 
kids' choice of friends and because the youths have much structured time in 
practicing and playing sports, practicing a musical instrument, using a 
computer, reading, etc. Youths with too much unsupervised free time on 
their hands can find many troubling pastimes, including drinking and smoking.

Roybal-Allard obtained data from other studies showing one-third of 
fourth-graders saying they had been pressured in the past to drink alcohol. 
Ten-year-olds? That's hard to believe but certainly not impossible in some 
neighborhoods. The average age for trying alcohol the first time supposedly 
is 11, surveys have shown.

Two-thirds of youths who start drinking by age 15 will end up trying 
illegal drugs, she said. Federal alcohol abuse experts say drinking often 
does lead to using marijuana or cocaine but that alcohol abuse by itself is 
a major problem that must get more attention.
The message that experts want to get to youths is that alcohol abuse is not 
cool but dangerous and illegal. How best to get out that message will take 
more thought and planning.
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