Blame the pregame?

UNC journalism student Cat DiPaci weighs in on a recent crackdown on bartenders and convenience store clerks selling alcohol to minors:

Reducing alcohol sales to minors or inadvertently increasing binge-drinking habits?

According to The Daily Tar Heel, January 2011 has seen more citations for selling alcohol to minors than the combined number from all of 2009. These statistics are absurd. Writing citations to poor restaurant and bar owners in the Chapel Hill area is hurting their funds, their already struggling small businesses and surely not stopping underage alcohol consumption.

Police call this an effort to reduce underage drinking, but I see it as a poorly planned and ineffective solution to a larger problem. The greater problem to address than serving to minors is the binge-drinking levels of minors in the first place. Campuses across the country are seeing record highs of binge drinking and terrible consequences for their students, both health and academic related.

For a more targeted solution to underage alcohol consumption, I would recommend steering away from targeting bartenders and servers. Costly drinks adding up on a poor college kid’s bar tab are deterrent enough. If you are going to target the source, I would recommend focusing efforts on the distributors of bulk liquor and beer, say grocery or liquor stores, which might interfere with “pregaming.”

The students I talk to are not deterred from Chapel Hill bars, largely because we mostly hear of the penalties the owners incur and rarely the consequences for underage students.

Plus, college kids are creative. When students hear the ALE is out at bars, creating a possibility that they won’t be served, they develop their own solutions to that problem. For the most part, minors are just going to “pregame” harder, drinking more at home or at a party before attending a bar to make up for what the bar will not serve them. This, in my opinion, is worse and only contributes to the huge binge-drinking problem. To students, pregaming has become the cheaper option and tends to be a safer bet when it comes to the risk of law enforcement at bars. There is pressure to power through as many drinks as possible before going to Franklin Street. If students felt more confident that they could drink in a more spread-out period throughout the night at bars, maybe we would see a decrease in the uncanny levels of intoxication seen. This may not curb underage drinking, but I think being responsible about it is a step in the right direction.

So, a question for the enforcers, what’s limiting one drink at a bar for minors when they are going to drink eight or nine before they even get there?

— Cat DiPaci

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