After months of research and study, a group of city teens presented their findings on how to reduce underage drinking in Hartford Tuesday night at Hartford City Hall.
The teens are part of Teens In Hartford Promoting Sober Youth (TIHPSY), and their study was conducted with support from numerous city agencies and community groups utilizing a grant from the State Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Based on their research, which included numerous interviews with city youths, TIHPSY members identified several factors which they feel contribute to underage drinking. However, they have chosen to concentrate on the four factors that can most easily be changed. These four factors are the high availability of alcohol in Hartford; low enforcement of liquor laws; peer acceptance of underage drinking; and a perception of low risk.
TIHPSY member Camarr Williams said underage drinking in Hartford is increased by the fact that the city currently has 335 business establishments that are licensed to sell alcohol. To rectify this situation, the teens are recommending that new laws be drawn up requiring that retail liquor outlets be located at a certain minimum distance from each other and from schools, playgrounds and other places were youngsters regularly gather.
In terms of enforcement, TIHPSY members said the only major action undertaken “in recent memory” against the selling of alcohol to minors was conducted by Hartford Police last October. Of the 103 locations checked, 27 were caught selling alcohol to minors. Such compliance checks should be increased and penalties made more severe for businesses that are caught selling alcohol to minors, according to TIHPSY.
In terms of peer pressure, TIHPSY members found that while elementary school children typically had negative views of alcohol and drug abuse, these perceptions began to change during middle school, particularly if a youngster’s friends began abusing alcohol and/or drugs.
TIHPSY members said this situation can be corrected by requiring that all after-school and year-round youth programs adopt an alcohol abuse awareness component. They also suggested that such awareness programs would be more effective if taught, at least in part, by teens.
Following the presentation by TIHPSY at Monday night’s forum, representatives from several City agencies came forward to describe how their departments might make use of the recommendations made by the teens.
Fire Chief Charles Teale said that his department is often called upon to uses the “jaws of life” to rescue persons who have been involved in drunk-driving accidents. “You’ve heard that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Teale. “Well the pound of cure is cutting someone out of a wrecked car with the jaws of life and taking them to the hospital. The ounce of prevention is what you’re talking about here tonight.”
Like many others, Councilman Jim Boucher had high praise for the effort and initiative shown by the members of TIHPSY.
“You’re not just the future leaders of this city, you’re already leading in the present and for that I thank you,” said Boucher. He added that he plans on condensing TIHPSY’s recommendations into a resolution that he will then present to City Council.