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Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility
a tool that can be used to implement and support various interventions, especially those that target community-level policies and practices. It can help to create the political will and organizational support for developing and implementing proven strategies for decreasing underage drinking (such as minimum age drinking laws, zero tolerance laws, and measures to reduce physical availability and outlet concentration). It can help to change the normative climate surrounding the acceptability of underage drinking, and create greater awareness of, and publicity about, enforcement activities, such as random breath testing and sting operations. It also helps establish the idea that alcohol and other drugs are a community problem that local people can solve, thereby increasing the likelihood that people will support and sustain efforts they help create.
There is a long and varied history of community mobilization around alcohol problems in the United States, dating back to the nineteenth century. In recent years, community mobilization has been recognized, documented, and evaluated in efforts to reduce alcohol-related problems, including underage drinking. Case studies have documented how communities have organized and used the news media to support changes in alcohol availability, reductions in outdoor advertising of alcohol, increased compliance checks on retailers regarding service and sales of alcohol to minors, keg registration laws, and campaigns to eliminate alcohol sponsorship from ethnic holiday events.
It is important for communities to rely on scientifically based strategies to reduce underage drinking. For example, research shows that positive outcomes can be achieved by combining environmental and institutional change with theory-based health education programs (Hingson and Howland, 2002). Community-based prevention research points to the importance of broad efforts to reshape the physical, social, economic, and legal environment affecting alcohol use. Promising evidence suggests that coalitions can effectively address youth access to alcohol and high-risk behaviors associated with alcohol consumption (Hingson and Howland, 2002; Manger et al., 1992).
Concerns about the prevalence and effects of alcohol use by underage youth have led to a large proliferation of community-based coalitions across the country (Butterfoss et al., 1996; Lerner and Miller, 1993; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 1993). These coalitions have engaged community residents, advocacy groups, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, government agencies, and universities in collaborative activities to address youth risk behaviors, particularly those associated with alcohol and other drug use (Fawcett et al., 1997; Hawkins et al., 1992; Mansergh et al., 1996). Having the flexibility to choose one’s partners has been an important ingredient in the success of many effective coalitions. Some coalitions have included local alcohol retailers, while others have limited their mem-