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Underage Drinking Starts As Early As Age 11, NC Alcohol Officials Say

Photo: Sign that says 'You Must Be 21 Years Old To Enter'
Flickr user Steve Mclaughlin

The North Carolina Alcohol Beverage Control Commission is preparing an advertising campaign against underage drinking.

According to an ABC survey, up to 40 percent of children in North Carolina have consumed alcohol before they get to the ninth grade.

ABC Chairman Jim Gardner says part of the motivation behind the campaign is another, more stark, statistic.

"I was staggered when I heard the figure that we lose a child per week," Gardner said in an interview. "And I have to always stop and think: per week, not per month, in North Carolina, to underage drinking accidents."

Gardner says he wants public perception to change around that industry. It’s a pretty big challenge, but he says it’s been done with another big business.

"I grew up in Rocky Mount, and I can remember when tobacco markets opened," Gardner said. "I didn't live close to a tobacco market, but all I could smell was cigarette. So my answer is I never thought we would be able to change the culture. That it was OK to smoke. That it wasn’t a bad thing. Look what’s happened."

Gardner says he expects the campaign to last several years. It will seek to motivate parents to speak with their children about the risks associated with drinking. Part of the goal is to cut down on the number of deaths connected to under-age drinking.

Alcohol sales is an industry of $5.5. billion per year in North Carolina.

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.
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