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Health dept. helps fight underage drinking

Tom Jackson • Apr 4, 2014 at 11:50 AM

For years, Norwalk police have used college students to see if bartenders and liquor store clerks are selling alcohol to minors.

Huron County’s health department is trying to help with another side of the underage drinking problem: Educating providers so they don’t make mistakes with underage drinkers.

The most recent community health assessment showed that binge drinking by teens is a problem in Huron County, said Elaine Barman, a health educator at Huron County Public Health.

Barman said the health department is sponsoring training sessions two times a year to educate people in Huron County who sell liquor. Norwalk police and Huron County deputies back up those education efforts by checking on compliance with the law, she said.

Norwalk police Chief Dave Light said that, for many years, the department has used young people to see if booze is being sold to people under 21, the legal drinking age. The college students go to liquor stores, grocery stores and other places where alcohol is sold.

There’s no trickery, Light said. If the youngsters are asked for their IDs, they produce their real IDs.

Some of the establishments — the ones that take the law seriously — will confiscate the IDs and call police, Light said.

“That’s a big atta boy” he said.

About four years ago, the police department began offering classes to people who sell alcohol to help them understand the laws.

The health department signed on to co-sponsor the last one, held in March, he said.

“They can reach out to a lot more people” Light said.

People who sell liquor can face serious consequences that go beyond the fines they’ll pay if they get caught selling to minors, Barman said. If someone who wasn’t supposed to get alcohol in the first place causes an accident, the person who sold the alcohol could be held liable.

She said the health department tries to underscore the messages of the training sessions by sending out reminders throughout the year.

The warnings come at a key time of the year, with area teens gearing up for prom season.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety’s Investigative Unit recently issued a reminder about the state’s laws on underage drinking.

It’s illegal to provide a place for your child and his or her friends to drink. Parents may not provide alcohol to children who are younger than 21, who are not their own children, even in their own home with the other parents’ permission, according to the state. A parent convicted of providing alcohol to an underage person faces a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

And, of course, it’s illegal to purchase alcohol for anyone 21 or younger.

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