Stores, retaurants asked to help curb teen drinking

A VARSA sticker is added under a warning to minors at Vashon Market. - Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo
A VARSA sticker is added under a warning to minors at Vashon Market.
— image credit: Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo

On the Fourth of July, a teenage boy tried to buy beer at Vashon Market using a fake ID. The checker, however, was suspicious and alerted store management.

“We caught that,” said Byron Cox, a manager at the grocery store. “And I told the young man, ‘Do not use your fake ID.’”

Volunteers with the Vashon Alliance to Reduce Substance Abuse (VARSA) say it’s not too common for minors to obtain alcohol from stores or restaurants on Vashon — more often they get it from an older person. But in order to tackle teen alcohol use from every angle, they say, the nonprofit is asking Vashon retailers to partner with them to prevent teens from getting their hands on alcohol.

Vashon Market is one of the first retailers to join the effort.

“I think it’s something we need to watch out for as a community,” said Cox, who has given tips to the volunteers. “Everybody needs to work on all sides to help the kids to understand you don’t need to drink, not until you’re of age.”

Armed with a survey and a list of suggestions, VARSA volunteers will spend the summer asking business owners with a liquor license to take steps such as moving beer further from soda and candy, limiting the alcohol signs on display and retraining employees responsible for checking IDs.

In addition to recommending changes at stores and restaurants, volunteers will also ask business owners to sign a pledge committing to responsible alcohol sales and to display a window sticker that shows their support.

Lee Ockinga, a VARSA board member helping with outreach, said so far everyone has been receptive to the organization’s effort and is willing to have their business assessed.

“The businesses have been so open and so receptive and saying ‘What can we do?’” she said.

Ed Swan, a VARSA consultant helping with the project, says he believes Vashon businesses will also benefit from considering the conditions at their stores — such as the line of sight from checkers to the beer and wine section — and giving their employees additional training around alcohol sales. VARSA is handing out training packets for employees to review, Swan said, and as soon as enough stores sign up, the Liquor Control Board (LCB) will hold a special class on Vashon.

Almost ever Vashon store and restaurant, Swan noted, has failed a past LCB compliance check, an undercover operation where minors see if they can successfully purchase alcohol. He emphasized that VARSA is not targeting any particular businesses, and that many of the them are already following most of VARSA’s recommendations.

Swan also said not all of the recommendations will be possible at every business. For instance, he said, smaller convenience stores may not be able to move their beer away from their soda.

“We’re just saying, ‘What can we do to help you guys succeed?’” he said.

Luke McQuillin, VARSA’s coordinator, said the nonprofit is especially excited to offer businesses use of new electronic ID scanners VARSA has purchased. The scanners read licenses and ID cards from all 50 states, reading whether the cardholder is of age and detecting fake IDs. The scanners will soon begin to circulate among Island retailers, and McQuillin believes minors will think twice about trying to purchase alcohol when the scanners may be in use.

“It takes the heat off some of the clerks as well,” he said. “They don’t have to calculate dates.”

McQuillin said VARSA hasn’t found that minors purchasing alcohol is a big problem on the Island. In a 2010 survey, 52 percent of Vashon 12th graders said they had obtained alcohol in the past 30 days, and less than 5 percent said they purchased that alcohol at a store. Meanwhile, 27 percent said they got the alcohol from a friend, and 16 percent said they got it at a party. Nearly 16 percent said they gave someone money to buy them alcohol, an act that McQuillin said could have happened outside a store.

Despite the low numbers, McQuillin said VARSA, currently in its third year of funding by a 10-year grant, is working to curb teen drug and alcohol use in any way it can. Perhaps more, he said, they simply want to raise awareness of the issues.

In a recent VARSA poll, 84 percent of adult respondents said they believe it’s “very wrong” or “wrong” for youth to drink. However, just 48 percent said they believe the community considers teen alcohol use “very wrong” or “wrong.”

Ockinga, who was involved in the survey, said the numbers seem to contradict one another.

“Most people felt it was an issue … and the perception is that other people don’t care,” she said.

McQuillin said he believes the effort by stores will help send the message that the community is not tolerant of underage drinking.

“It’s all about just creating a larger presence, so everyone in our community, especially the kids, knows we are watching,” he said.



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