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SADD plans to 'hit the ground running' as soon as school starts

August 18, 2012|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • Julie Fitz checks a customer's identification for a beer purchase Tuesday morning at Roxy Liquors at Kenley Square shopping center.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

The senior class at St. Maria Goretti High School plans to take a proactive approach to help curb teenage drinking.

Laura Winalski, president of the school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions organization, said the seniors held a meeting earlier this summer to discuss the issue and seem excited to tackle it head-on.

“As soon as school starts, we’re going to hit the ground running,” she said. “A lot of kids don’t know how it can affect their future or damage their health.”

Winalski was the only youth among 25 people who recently attended the inaugural meeting of Teens Have Choices, a coalition that was created to find ways to curb underage drinking. The group held its first meeting Aug. 9 at Christ Reformed Church on West Franklin Street in downtown Hagerstown.

Janis Williamson, coalition coordinator, said the group wants to inform teenagers that their decision to drink alcohol can have detrimental results, such as failing grades, alcohol-related vehicle crashes, changes in brain development and unplanned pregnancies.

“It really impacts so many areas of a young person’s life,” she said. “Teenagers don’t drink as often as adults, but when they do, they binge.”

Williamson said she wants the coalition, which is made up of health officials, law-enforcement officers, students and private citizens, to meet about once a month to identify problem areas, then develop ways to address them. At this point, the coalition doesn’t have a regular place to meet, but leaders of the group are trying to find one.

Williamson said the state has identified binge drinking and alcohol-related crashes as two of the most serious problems associated with underage alcohol consumption.

The coalition presented statistics from a Maryland Adolescent Survey that was done in 2007. The survey showed that high school seniors in Washington County ranked well above the state average in underage alcohol use. The state average of seniors who said they had used beer and wine was 59.7 percent, compared to 65.8 percent in Washington County.


Compliance checks

To curb underage alcohol consumption, the Hagerstown Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office have increased compliance checks at liquor stores, restaurants and taverns to make sure they’re not serving alcohol illegally.

Just about every week, the Board of License Commissioners for Washington County, known as the liquor board, holds hearings for underage sales violations.

The first offense usually carries a $500 fine, which increases with subsequent offenses. If a business is found guilty and fined, the owner has 30 days to pay the penalty or file an appeal at Washington County Circuit Court.

Julie Fitz is co-owner of Roxy Liquors at 761 E. Wilson Blvd., which was one of six Washington County businesses that were fined in July for selling alcohol to an underage police agent during compliance checks in June. Thirty-two businesses passed those checks, including Roxy Liquors, which was checked twice.

Fitz, who attended the Teens Have Choices meeting, said store employees faithfully check identification cards and each week catch about 100 underage people trying to buy alcohol.

“We’re open late and we get a lot of that,” Fitz said.

She said the store faces a never-ending battle to be perfect.

Fitz said one of the biggest problems involves adults who come in to buy alcohol for an underage friend or relative. She said the scenario is common: They enter the store together, and the underage person will point out the type of alcohol that he or she wants. In some cases, Fitz said, the underage people are so brazen that they carry the alcohol to the cash register.

“If they’re coming in together, we card them (both) and they get mad and they curse me,” Fitz said. “I lose a sale, but I’m not selling to minors.”

Her husband, Don, said he believed the state should take a more proactive stance by passing a law to ban people younger than 21 from entering all liquor stores.

He said he might take a hit in tobacco sales, which require the purchaser to be 18, but that loss would be a tolerable sacrifice.

“There’s more the state can do,” Don Fitz said. “If it’s a state law, everybody is on the same playing field.”

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Teens Have Choices

To learn more about the Teens Have Choices coalition, call Janis Williamson at 301-671-3000 or send an email to coordinator@teenshavechoices.org.

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