January 26, 2013 (Campo) -- Underage drinkers, empty lots littered with empty beer bottles and irresponsible alcohol retailers have residents speaking out after a recent community meeting to voice their concerns about youth access to alcohol in Back Country areas.
Boulevard resident Tammy Daubach said she noticed teens drinking in the empty lot near her home in Boulevard. She explained kids frequent the empty lot to ride their BMX bikes on the dirt tracks. “When the kids need to fill their motor bikes at the gas station nearby, they gas up and get their stuff. You constantly see the trash back there. We’ll go out with bags to pick it all up and find chips and wine coolers and little liquor bottles, all of that.”
“I’ve been told that one of our local stores has sold alcohol to minors,” said Bonnie Halfdell, a Jacumba resident. She added alcohol sales to minors have been brought up in community forums in the past.
In August 2012, 11 marketplaces and liquor stores in Campo, Boulevard, Lake Morena and Jacumba were assessed to see how alcohol is marketed and sold in the region. All of the stores allotted more than 10 percent of cooler space to single-serve alcohol. Selling cold, single-serve products such as 40-ounce beers, wine coolers and shots has been linked to increases in crime, according to research at University of California Riverside.
Locals have noticed an increase in dumping and crime related to single-serve alcoholic beverages, especially involving youth. From May to October of last year, approximately 25 percent of reported crimes in the region were drug and alcohol related.
Daubach recalled another situation when teens vandalized a sign near her home in the middle of the night. “You could hear they were young. You could tell they were drunk,” she said. The next morning, Daubach found beer bottles and letters from the sign strewn along the side of the road where the teens had been hanging out the night before.
“Exposure to alcohol advertising shapes attitudes and perceptions about alcohol use among both young people and young adults,” according to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth. Additionally, youth will develop positive thoughts about alcohol and intentions to drink if they like an alcohol advertisement.
At one store, approximately 80 percent of the windows were covered with alcohol-related advertisements, which not only enticed youth, but dramatically reduced visibility in and out of the store. This was more than the California window advertising limit of a maximum of 33 percent of window space which ensures law enforcement has visibility of activities within the store from the street.
The dangers of underage drinking in East County are real. Research has shown that when youth consume alcohol related problems include violence, injury, sex crimes and even death.
Fifteen East County youth age 20 and younger died with alcohol in their system between 2006 and 2011, according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office. Countywide, the death toll for youth who died with alcohol in their system during that time period reached 144.
Youth access to alcohol in Back Country communities is raising concern for local health and safety issues in the area. Halfdell and Daubach are working in local community collaboratives to raise awareness about alcohol issues related to binge and underage drinking.