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Campaign to curb underage drinking underway in Erie County

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Local government and law enforcement are teaming up with a local beverage retailer and advocate for drug-and-alcohol abuse prevention, to launch a campaign discouraging underage drinking. With prom and graduation season getting underway, supporters of "Not A Minor Problem" hope to stop short-term decisions that could cause long-term consequences, including deaths.

In addition to social media messaging, participant Consumer's Beverages will place tags on the products sold within their locations, featuring information including the language of legislation banning the provision of alcohol to individuals under the age of 21. This includes the purchase of alcohol at stores and serving it to minors, even at home.

Neil Kavanaugh, president of Consumer's Beverages, says this program takes a different approach than their other longtime strategies to stop underage drinking.

"We've always had a focus on curbing sales to underagers. We've been doing that multiple ways," said Consumer's Beverages president Neil Kavanaugh. "Most famously, we have our stop signs in front of our stores, asking people under 21 to please don't even come into our store."

Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard stated that every year across the nation, more than 4,300 people ages 21 and under die in alcohol-related incidents. Most involve auto crashes but Howard added that others suffer fatal injuries from accidents or foolish behavior that young people would otherwise not partake in if sober. 

Program backers anticipate more temptation by minors to consumer alcohol at this time of year, at proms and at graduation parties. 

"Preventing the loss of a life or a loss of property and the heartache that goes along with that one poor decision is the partnership's goal," said Beth Anzalone, executive director of Western New York United Against Drug and Alcohol Abuse. "We should care because this is one strategy which could potentially save a life."

Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO
Seen here are both sides of tags that Consumer's Beverages will place on products sold at their locations, as part of a campaign discouraging underage drinking, including the provision of alcohol to minors by adults.

Violating state law that fobids the provision of alcohol to minors is a misdemeanor, according to Sheriff Howard. Punishments include a $1,000 fine and a one-year jail sentence. 

Erie County Legislator Lynne Dixon, who created legislation holding adults accountable in cases of underage drinking involving children other than their own, said even if the results aren't fatal there are still long-term consequences suffered for a short-term lapse of judgement.  

"They've got their whole lives ahead of them and they've got wonderful opportunities awaiting them.  College, careers, jobs are awaiting them," Dixon said. "Don't let a mistake, one night of underage drinking going too far, let that be a deterrent and hurt what your future holds."

The Erie County Sheriff's Office has a confidential tip line that concerned parents, teachers, students and other peers may call to report suspected underage drinking or planned drinking activities, 1-800-851-1932.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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