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Middle school students target excessive alcohol advertising
Middle school students jumped out of a white van, cameras in hand, to capture photos of liquor advertisements covering the windows of local stores on Wednesday.
They were on a mission to identify businesses in Colusa that were out of compliance with a law regulating retailers called the Lee Law.
"We're going to see if they pass our requirements," said eighth-grader Vanessa Munguia.
The mission was part of a campaign to deter youth alcohol consumption, and is a partnership between Colusa County Department of Behavioral Health and Egling School Club Live. The Colusa High Friday Night Live club supported the effort.
Other schools in the county may participate later, officials said.
The campaign is focusing on the aspect of the law that requires no more than 33 percent of the window space to be covered with advertising signs and that window signs must be placed so that law enforcement personnel have a clear, unobstructed view of the interior of the store, including the cash register areas.
An organizer of the activity said the program is empowering to youth.
"We are approaching businesses with excessive signage in a surveillance and then teach the students how to go through the process of having them removed to be in compliance with the law, to empower them," said Mark McGregor, a therapist with Behavior Health: Prevention Services.
Matthew Garcia, also a therapist with the department and a coordinator of the activity, said there is evidence that exposure of young people to alcohol marketing speeds up the onset of drinking.
"Students at schools surrounded by ads expressed greater intention to drink and more positive associations with alcohol," said Garcia.
The students said that they believe alcohol advertising at stores has an affect on their peers, and sometimes may be targeting them.
"The ads make it look like you want to try it and they dress up the bottles," said eighth-grader Klaireth Espindola.
"They have little bottles of alcohol in flavors and they put it right near the candy," said Munguia.
She also said she has noticed bright-colored bottles of sports drinks with alcohol that were located next to juice.
The students said that young people their age are consuming alcohol, which they obtain from older siblings or friends, and by "shoulder tapping" people outside liquor stores, and even from their parents' supply.
After the students take the photos, they will identify businesses that are and are not in compliance, then send letters to inform them of their status.
Then they will send letters to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and to the Colusa Police Department.
Businesses in compliance will be recognized as a "Responsible Merchant."
Garcia said that prevention is key and that early prevention can save the state a lot of money from issues related to alcohol and substance abuse issues later down the road.
Underage drinking cost California $6.8 billion in 2010, according to the Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center.
Youth violence, traffic accidents, alcohol treatment and high-risk sex are all categories of costs that the study associated with underage drinking.
According to the center, fetal alcohol syndrome among teen mothers costs California $152 million.