It’s not often that teenagers, parents, prevention specialists, liquor retailers, and law-enforcement officials come together over the issue of underage drinking, but more than 2,000 community volunteers in Illinois recently rallied around a campaign to discourage adults from buying alcohol for kids.
Teenagers — accompanied by adult chaperones, and with the permission of retailers — placed hundreds of thousands of warning stickers on liquor bottles and cases of beer and wine coolers as part of Project Sticker Shock. The bright yellow stickers featured messages reminding patrons that it is illegal to provide minors with alcohol or to use a fake ID to purchase alcohol.
Project Sticker Shock volunteers visited liquor retailers in over 50 counties throughout the state as part of Alcohol Awareness Month, with many participating in “Sticker Shock Day” on April 2. The Illinois Liquor Control Commission (ILCC) provided materials for the campaign through funds from its “Don’t Be Sorry” educational program.
The ILCC asked retailers to continue displaying Project Sticker Shock materials in their stores throughout the month. “Getting this message out prior to the prom and graduation season can save lives,” said ILCC Executive Director Lainie Krozel.
The concept behind the program is to change community ideas regarding underage drinking, said Ted Penesis, industry education manager at the ILCC, who spearheaded the statewide campaign. “If we’re going to be changing our society’s attitudes about underage drinking, we have to go after the people who are providing minors with alcohol,” he said.
Penesis reached out to prevention specialists throughout the state, who in turn recruited community organizers interested in stopping underage drinking. Over 50 community organizations — including statewide liquor distributors, law-enforcement organizations and alcohol and other drug prevention groups — came together to participate in the Sticker Shock program.
“We want to send the message that the community does not approve of providing alcohol to minors,” said Jason Blanchette, community prevention coordinator of Chestnut Health Systems, who headed up the program in Mason County. “The more we can create that image, the more we think there will be fewer who [buy alcohol for minors].”
Blanchette worked with students from Operation Snowball, an organization that focuses on leadership development for teenagers interested in leading drug-free lives. Blanchette also found student volunteers at a teen advisory group that meets at a local library.
“We want to get involved,” said Alyssa Hand, an 11th grade student who participated in the Sticker Shock campaign. “We know there’s a lot of underage drinking and partying out there, and somehow, we want to help [prevent] that.”
Penesis and Blanchette said there was a great response to the project from the community, including members of the alcohol industry. “The retailers were insanely supportive,” Blanchette said. Only one out of 11 retailers in Mason County wouldn’t allow students to place materials in stores, and many store owners thanked students and adults as they left the stores, he said.
“[Underage drinking is] a problem we need to address,” said Jason Hunter who owns Country General, a convenience store in Mason County. “This is a very simple thing to do. I don’t know why every retailer wouldn’t do it.”
Working with retailers was essential to the success of the program, Penesis said. “The first step is making sure the liquor industry knows what you’re trying to do; that you’re not trying to hurt their industry but that you’re trying to keep liquor out of minors’ hands,” he said. “I think people — whether they are in the liquor industry or not — just look at [Project Sticker Shock] as a way to keep everyone safe.”
Hunter said he was not concerned with losing business from those who buy alcohol for minors. “I want to lose that business,” he said. “Kids are our future and no sale is worth it. If you’re worrying about losing business then you’re missing the big picture.”
“I think retailers are stepping up to the plate,” said Jeanne Brady, who works with Citizens Against Substance Abuse in Woodford County. “They understand that we’re just trying to have safer and healthier environments for kids.”
Teens in Erie, Pa., started the first Sticker Shock program 13 years ago, plastering stickers at participating beer stores in three areas of the state. Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire and Virginia following suit, with Maine passing legislation in 2005 that requires liquor establishments to display Sticker Shock posters.
Today, Maine’s Sticker Shock program is still going strong. “It’s great to see how it’s taken on a life of its own,” said Maryann Harakall, a prevention specialist with the Maine Office of Substance Abuse. The agency keeps track of the number of liquor retailers working with underage-drinking coalitions, the number of retailers actually participating in the program, and the number of stickers distributed.
While the agency manages the project, however, Harakall said community organizers and students are really the ones driving the efforts.
Volunteers in Illinois also placed Sticker Shock window decals, posters, and signs with similar messages around stores. “We wanted to put materials in permanent places so the message stays in the store,” Penesis said.
Penesis said part of what the ILCC hoped to accomplish through the project was to create dialogue between parents and teenagers. “There is information about underage drinking that parents just don’t know,” he said. “It’s a way to get the conversation started.”
The project’s success is being judged by the number of people exposed to the message, but Penesis hopes to work with other agencies to create more detailed outcome measures. “There was a pretty comprehensive penetration of the message, with almost 50 counties throughout the state covered,” Penesis said.
Brady said that one of the major accomplishments of the campaign was that relationships were built between various entities interested in reducing underage drinking throughout the community. “I think that’s what’s key,” she said. “At this point for this project, we need those relationships between the retailers and the rest of the community. We couldn’t do this without them.”
In addition to teenagers interested in reducing underage drug and alcohol use, adults from law enforcement, schools, and community boards reached out to help distribute materials. “I can’t do that from an office. We need the people on the ground for that,” Penesis said.