For one day only, middle and high school students legally entered local liquor stores — not to do business, but to apply yellow stickers to boxes and bottles to raise awareness against purchasing alcohol for minors.
Twenty-eight students from Madison Middle School, Madison Southern High School, Model Laboratory School and Madison Central High School participated in the Madison County Youth in Action program dubbed Sticker Shock as they were accompanied by law enforcement officers at each store they visited.
On the stickers applied to products, a message warned purchasers that buying for a minor is a class A misdemeanor punishable by 90 days to one year in jail and up to a $500 fine.
“This program is designed to educate youth, parents and alcohol retailers that it’s illegal to purchase alcohol if you’re under 21 (or for someone under 21),” said Jennifer Webb, Madison County Youth in Action coordinator, who explained laws against underage drinking aren’t just rules, there’s science behind it. “If you drink before the age of 15, you are fives times more likely to become an alcoholic. The legal age to purchase alcohol is 21 for a reason.”
When it comes to underage drinking, no one has the ability to tell the story better than ones peers, according to Kentucky State Trooper Robert Purdy, who accompanied the teens to Bottles & Cases on South Keeneland Drive.
“Since a lot of the beer could be purchased for people their age, at their same school, the fact the (students) are here saying ‘This isn’t ok’ and are taking a stand and hopefully keeping someone from drinking — that’s our goal,” Purdy said.
As a participant, Tyson Isaacs, 17, said he wanted his peers to know the facts about drinking and driving.
“And maybe they will see me and the other people here today as mentors to them to not (drink at their age) at all,” he said.
Bottles and Cases owner Brandi Bowles noted the importance for the community to know underage drinking is happening and there needs to be more done to raise awareness and prevention.
Webb said her organization conducts Sticker Shock during the holidays, or large sporting events, since that is when a large quantity of alcohol is purchased and consumed.
Now in its 11th year, Madison County Youth in Action has distributed more than a quarter of a million stickers in local liquor stores.
“On any average December day, 11,000 kids will take their first drink of alcohol, about 400 kids under the age of 21 die in the U.S. each year as a result of underage drinking injury,” Webb explained.
Adults buying alcohol for minors is a problem, even in Madison County, according to Webb who said there are parents who will buy adult beverages for their children or host parties at their home thinking it's safer to let their children “experience” the drink in a controlled environment.
Webb said Madison County Youth in Action has appealed to local governments to pass a social host ordinance giving law enforcement another tool to breakup parties, but so far has been unsuccessful in getting it created.
“We have to educate these kids, starting with this generation. We’ve already lost a generation to drugs and alcohol,” she said, noting her previous work with teen court. “I saw how addiction started with alcohol. Kids that drink at an early age graduate to harder or illicit substance.”
And according to Purdy, underage drinking is a huge problem.
“Data shows numbers that are quite significant,” he said. “The reason we are oftentimes so concerned about it is, when we start looking at people that have addictions later on in life, whether it's alcohol or drugs, often they started drinking from 10- to 14-years-old when their brains are still developing. Getting their hands on an alcoholic beverage could be that one decision that sets the course for their life potentially leading them down the wrong path.”
Reach Critley King at 624-6623; follow her on Twitter @critleyking.