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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Statistics show more than 40,000 NH teenagers consumed alcohol in June

More than a third of New Hampshire’s teenagers say they’ve had an alcoholic drink in the past month.

If you do the math, that’s more than 40,000 of the state’s teens who would have consumed alcohol in June. ...

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More than a third of New Hampshire’s teenagers say they’ve had an alcoholic drink in the past month.

If you do the math, that’s more than 40,000 of the state’s teens who would have consumed alcohol in June.

More than half of those ages 12-20 in the state said they had their first drink before they were 16. That works out to about 70,000 teenagers who had an alcoholic drink before they could drive.

Another 12 percent – about 17,000 teens – said they were younger than 12 when they had their first drink, according to estimates from state officials.

James Wilson, director of the state Liquor Commission’s Division of Licensing and Enforcement, is one of 21 sworn officers tasked with enforcing underage drinking laws across the state. It’s a big job.

“We need to keep the fight up,” Wilson said. “We’ve made some good progress, but it’s certainly not a sprint. It’s a marathon.”

There is a reason the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Hampshire chose alcohol as one of the three abused substances its Check the Stats campaign focuses on, along with marijuana and prescription drugs: Alcohol kills more people than all other drugs combined.

Alcohol’s deadly consequences can be partially glimpsed in the responses to the survey that forms the basis of the partnership’s campaign, the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

More than 11 percent of those ages 18-20 said they had been in a car with someone who had been drinking. Nearly a quarter of those ages 12-20 said they had binged on alcohol – meaning five or more drinks within two hours –
within the past month. That’s compared with just 15 percent nationally, according to the survey.

The state ranks second nationally for binge drinking among that age group, the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Hampshire says.

The state’s enforcement efforts come chiefly in three forms.

Officers conduct compliance checks at stores and restaurants to make sure servers and cashiers are checking IDs properly.

Officers surveil parking lots, looking for kids asking adults to buy alcohol for them and for any adults who agree.

Officers look for teens and tweens with fake IDs.

But enforcement is only part of the equation. There are also prevention and educational campaigns, such as the Buyers Beware program, and speaking at health fairs, driver education classes and National Night Out events, Wilson said.

Wilson said one significant factor in New Hampshire’s relatively high rate of underage drinking is adult attitudes. Just 72 percent of kids who took the Youth Risk Behavior Survey said their parents would strongly disapprove of them drinking. That number is about 90 percent nationwide.

“The reality is they’re committing an illegal act,” Wilson said. “It gives the younger people the impression maybe underage drinking isn’t that bad. The perception of that risk goes down.”

Advocates lobbied against several bills in the latest legislative session that would have eased consequences for underage drinking and limited judges’ abilities to punish underage drinkers.

New Futures, an advocacy nonprofit in Concord, lobbied against four bills that were defeated, including one that would have reduced the fine for underage drinking or possession. The bill, HB1486, would have sent a “negative message” to teens about drinking, New Futures said.

Other bills that were either tabled or voted inexpedient to legislate included one that would have allowed ages 18-21 to legally possess alcohol at a private party, another that would have stopped judges from revoking a person’s license except in cases that involved a motor vehicle, and another that would have allowed a minor to transport alcohol as long as there was an adult in the car, according to New Futures.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached
at 594-6415 or jcote@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Cote on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).