ANDERSON, Ind. —
Addiction happens early.
Researchers have long known that people who use alcohol and tobacco at a young age are more likely to carry those habits into adulthood. But a recent study suggests that the barriers to underage use in Madison County are relatively weak.
The study, “The Consumption and Consequences of Alcohol and Drugs in Madison County,” is based on data collected by Healthy, Tobacco-Free Madison County, with help from legal, educational and medical organizations. It found that the number of tobacco and alcohol retail outlets in Madison County exceeds the statewide average and that those retailers break the law almost as often as they obey it.
“We’re just finishing up 100 interviews with people in Madison County, from higher elected officials to ordinary, everyday people,” said Karesa Knight-Wilkerson, executive director of Healthy, Tobacco-Free Madison County and project director for the study. “What’s surprising to me is, looking over their interviews, they’re not seeing a correlation between underage alcohol use and the number of places that sell it.”
Those findings could sound a warning signal to parents of children and teens with summer approaching and more time on their hands.
According to the study, Madison County is home to 7.1 tobacco outlets per 1,000 youth (those ages 10-17), while the statewide average is 6.5. Retail outlets that offer alcohol number 20.6 per 1,000 youth, compared to a statewide average of 17.2.
Those numbers would present little cause for alarm if retailers obeyed laws that prohibit the sale of tobacco products to those under 18 and sales of alcohol to those under 21. This, however, is not the case. The Indiana State Excise Police reported a 49 percent failure rate on alcohol compliance checks performed between April 2007 to March 2009; the state average (excluding Madison County) is 34.5 percent. In other words, Madison County retailers illegally sold alcohol to minors nearly half the time.
“The compliance checks are only around 50 percent,” Knight-Wilkerson said. “That’s a huge deal.”
Nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of respondents reported their first use of alcohol between the ages of 7 and 16, while 52 percent reported first use between 17 and 26. That means high school seniors and college freshman who could feel peer pressure to drink in party situations.
“The Consumption and Consequences of Alcohol and Drugs in Madison County” was written by Dr. Michael Bruce, of Anderson University’s Falls School of Business, with primary data collected through Healthy, Tobacco-Free Madison County under the direction of project director Knight-Wilkerson and program director Andrew Sprock. Secondary data was provided by law enforcement, judicial, educational, medical and governmental organizations, while a telephone survey conducted by State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup in November 2008 provided a third source of data.