Jul 28, 2022 - News

Underage drinking prevention effort in Utah falls short

Illustration of a beer bottle inside of a "Just Say No" beer koozie.
Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

A multimillion-dollar underage drinking prevention campaign isn't working as expected, according to an audit released this week by the Office of the State Auditor.

Context: Parents Empowered, which was established in 2005, sought to have every Utah child reach the age of 21 before drinking alcohol.

  • The campaign provided resources to teach parents how to talk to their children about the tolls and health impacts of underage drinking.
  • It has also featured ads to curb underage drinking among teens that mirror anti-drug commercials seen in the 1980s.

By the numbers: Between 2005 and 2019, the drinking rate among children in Utah decreased by about 4%, according to the state's analysis of CDC data.

  • That's a slower decline when compared with the 14% decrease seen on a national level during that time period.
  • Flashback: Before 2005, Utah's underage drinking rates were decreasing faster than the national rate.

What they said: "The rate of underage drinking has declined in Utah, but nationwide, those rates … also declined," said Bertha Lui, a state financial audit director.

  • She presented her findings at a Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services meeting Tuesday, and said they were "unable to conclude the campaign drove the change in Utah."

Show me the money: The state-funded effort cost around $2.5 million a year since 2018.

  • Of note: During FY 2006, it cost the state $1.9 million.
  • While the increase is sizeable, DABS officials said the budget has kept up with inflation.

Yes, but: The state auditor's office found that more spending did not translate to a greater reduction in underage drinking.

What's next: Tiffany Clason, executive director of the DABS, said the group will continue to search for better metrics to evaluate the efficacy of the campaign.

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