Good article from Macon Telegraph June 2001 on underage drinking


A real brewhaha 

By Joe Kovac Jr. The Macon Telegraph 

You don't have to be 21. 

Not to sit at home and feast your eyes on a sweaty-cold bottle of Budweiser. 

All you need do is log onto 

Oh, and lie about your age. 

"Welcome to the Budweiser Beer Web site," the message reads. "You must be 21 years of age or older to visit To this end, we must ask you: What is your born on date?" 

Of course, if the date you enter makes you underage, you won't get in. You'll find yourself looking at the Cookie Monster and Big Bird, zapped to a screen full of Anheuser-Busch theme parks. 

At the Miller Brewing site, if you enter a birth date that doesn't add up to 21, you're duly informed: "Good beer is properly aged. You should be too. That's why we've reserved this Miller Brewing Company Web site for people over the age of 21." 

Seconds later, you're forwarded to a site that features links to and, near the bottom, a family-page article on --- no fooling --- toilet training. It's title: "Pooping Everywhere but the Potty." 

Miller also offers a 20-page booklet to help parents talk to their children about drinking. 

"Beer and other alcohol beverages are not for children," the book notes, adding that "part of growing up is learning how to make responsible choices so you will know what to do when the time comes." 

Lately, with President Bush's daughters making headlines for alcohol-related episodes, the topic of young people buying --- or trying to buy --- alcohol before their time has gained its share of attention. 

There is currently a resolution before Congress --- the National Media Campaign to Prevent Underage Drinking Act of 2001 --- that proposes studying the effectiveness of a nationwide alcohol-awareness crusade. 

One of the proposal's chief backers, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., thinks beer and liquor manufacturers are partly to blame. 

"They target market their advertising, in my view, to underage consumers. ... The Budweiser frogs and all of the gimmicks that are used by the alcohol industry are targeted at underage drinkers. We have a problem, and we need a national media campaign to offset it," Wamp says. 

"I applaud the efforts that have been made, but they're miniscule compared to the overwhelming influence of our popular culture, which encourages young people to think that it's cool to drink." 

Wamp says the nation's war on drugs has largely ignored alcohol abuse. 

"All you have to do, if you don't think underage drinking is a problem, is go Panama City Beach, Fla., for spring break and you will see the most God-awful sight of underage kids puking, acting ridiculously crazy, running their cars into telephone poles," the congressman says. "It is dangerous. It is sad. It is a crisis, frankly, among teen-agers." 

At the Coors beer site, underagers get a lecture from Pete Coors himself: "Brewing beer has been a topic of conversation around my family's house since I can remember. So believe me, I know you might think about drinking before you're 21. But do us and yourself a favor, please don't. We'll wait for your business." 

A Coors company spokeswoman says the thinking behind such advertising "is that we don't to market or sell to people that are under 21." 

Mercedes Jeffries, a health educator at River Edge Behavioral Health Center in Macon, organizes programs to teach children not to drink. There are skits for gradeschool pupils on the ills of drinking. 

"A lot of times they are just really, really curious," Jeffries says. "Or maybe one of their peers will dare them to take a drink, and then they take that first drink. What we try to teach them is ways to say no and not to do that, and say they've got other things to do, more important things in life, than to start drinking alcohol. 

"A lot of times kids get it at home, where their parents have their alcohol and leave it. That's maybe where they first experiment with it. Some kids just want to experiment and try it, and then a lot of times they try it and can't stop. Especially that binge drinking they do a lot in colleges. That can kill you --- if you start drinking a whole pile of alcohol." 

Last year, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism began the Keep Children Alcohol Free program in conjunction with the spouses of more than two dozen U.S. governors. Statistics indicate: 

- Three million children ages 14 through 17 are regular drinkers who already have a confirmed alcohol problem. 

- Twenty-four percent of eighth-graders have used alcohol in the last 30 days. 

- More than 100,000 12- and 13-year-olds binge drink every month. 

- Ninth-graders who drink are almost twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who don't. 

- Forty percent of children who begin drinking before the age of 15 will become alcoholics at some point in their lives. 

The chief executive officer for Students Against Destructive Decisions says recent reports on the Bush twins pertaining to underage drinking has been somewhat a setback. 

"Much of the coverage that I have seen has tended toward the teen-age point of view, which is, 'This is no big deal ... everybody does it. ... It's a rite of passage. It's a game we all play,'" SADD's Stephen Wallace says. 

"My view is that one of the reasons we have such a problem with underage drinking in this country ... is because far too often adults sort of adopt that view --- that it's not a big deal. 'We did it so they're gonna do it.' " 

Wallace, who is also a psychologist, thinks too many parents consider teen-age drinking an inevitability. 

"It's almost like they throw up their hands after their kids become teen-agers and say, 'There's nothing I can do. They're gonna drink, they're gonna experiment with drugs. ... I don't want them to do those things, but it's part of growing up.' " 

SADD research indicates teens whose parents talk to them about drinking are less likely to drink regularly (12 percent) than teens who do not talk to their parents about drinking (28 percent). 

Wallace doesn't so much decry beer commercials and ad campaigns as causal influences. 

"I think the fact of the matter is that kids know that alcohol is out there. We live in a society that glorifies alcohol use in many ways and kids have access to it," he says. 

"People ask me all the time, 'Why do kids drink?' It's an interesting question, and I think there are all types of reasons. But I don't think it's anything terribly mysterious. I think that teen-agers drink for many of the same reasons that adults drink: to be social, to deal with stress, to forget about problems." 

Wallace adds, "As long as adults remain somewhat oblivious or just choose to look the other way because they believe it's an appropriate rite of passage, there's not gonna be a light at the end of the tunnel." 

- To contact Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397 or e-mail

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