Alcohol responsibility task force wants to reform advertising

LAWRENCEVILLE - The task force Gwinnett Educating about alcohol responsibility discussed ways to combat underage drinking Tuesday at its first meeting of the fiscal year.

At the top of the list of the group's goals is reforming inappropriate alcohol advertising, especially billboards.

Snellville Police Detective Tim Colgan said communities should be able to exert some sort of control over what types of advertisements go on billboards in the area.

GEAR's leader, Millie Linville, said one example of improper advertising was the Budweiser billboard on Interstate 85 North that reads "Always worth it in Atlanta." To Linville, the slogan suggests that drinking is always a good idea, an unhealthy insinuation for young people and those with substance abuse problems.

She also mentioned the possibility of using MySpace to reach teenagers. But members of GEAR said it is just as important to target parents, who are sometimes complicit in or unaware of their children's substance abuse.

Colgan said 30 percent of youth who said they drink reported that someone in their family provided them alcohol.

One idea the group, which is a subsidiary of Gwinnett United in Drug Education, plans to push for is the airing of public service announcements on local radio stations.

"A lot of it as to do about how we get drinking to not be a family value," Linville said, adding that it is important to combat "communitywide irresponsibility."

Linville said the group is looking for a marketing expert to come on board and help guide the group's efforts.

"If we came up with an idea for any of our public service announcements, the expert could give us some words of advice," she said.

Another idea is to increase the number of compliance checks, where police send an underage person to attempt to buy alcohol at a store. Then a police officer is standing by to cite the store if the purchase is made. Colgan said compliance checks take manpower but are generally effective.

Linville said the drinking situation in Gwinnett has improved since 2000, when the last survey was conducted.

"The numbers look more promising this year," she said.

Linville was unable to provide statistics from the most recent health survey conducted in Gwinnett schools. She credited the drop in alcohol abuse to awareness campaigns that began in all areas of the country. Many students who are in high school now were forming their beliefs and values in middle school when the campaigns were beginning, she said.

Colgan said drunken driving continues to be a serious problem, adding that 50 percent of all driving fatalities are alcohol related.

"You take a teenager that has zero experience behind the wheel, and then impair them?" he said. "That's ridiculous."

Colleen Carter-Lunceford, a DUI instructor in Snellville and Norcross, said about 25 percent of the students in her classes are underage drinkers.

Also at the meeting were Lynette Ward, director of programs for Rainbow Village in Norcross, and Garry Rhodes, CEO of the consulting firm Optimum Results. Linville said the group also includes members of the school system and the business community. GEAR will meet again in September.