Your Views: New law should sop up parent-sponsored underage drinking parties


To the editor:
Most adults know it is illegal to provide alcohol to minors, but beginning July 1, adults have another reason to think twice before furnishing alcoholic beverages to underage youth.  Thats because a new Virginia law increases the liability for so-called social hosts, adults whose actions or failure to act result in underage drinking.
This year, the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria worked with Del. Charniele Herring (D-46) to strengthen the language in Virginias Social Host law, which prohibits parents and other adults from purchasing or providing alcohol to minors. Del. Herrings bill, HB 1496, passed the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate with no nay votes and was signed into law by Governor
 Bob McDonnell (R).  

The law takes effect on Friday, July 1 and includes the following provisions:
    It is against the law to provide alcohol to or purchase alcohol for minors.
    It is also illegal to have minors consuming alcohol in your residence or other location under your supervision.
    You dont have to know the drinker is under 21. You are responsible if there is reason to suspect the drinker is under 21.
    You may be held liable if you know minors under your supervision are drinking, and you fail to intervene.
Penalties for violation include up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine for each underage person.
Why did SAPCA advocate strengthening the Social Host law? Some parents and other adults in Alexandria look the other way and allow parties in their homes at which alcohol is served to underage youth. Far too often weve heard parents say, Underage drinking is inevitable, and its safer if it occurs in my home. These parents think allowing their teens to drink under their supervision will lead to responsible drinking when they are adults. But a new study shows thats not the case.  
Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that teens who drink with adult supervision are more likely to develop problems with alcohol several years later than teens who abstain from drinking until age 21. Heavy drinking can lead to alcohol-related car crashes and death, sexual assaults and other forms of violence and injury. There also is evidence that heavy drinking can permanently damage a young persons brain and development. 
Both national and local survey results confirm the ease with which our youth are able to obtain alcohol from adults. In a 2005 national survey of teens ages 13 to 18 conducted by the American Medical Association, two out of three reported it was easy to get alcohol from their homes without their parents knowing about it, and one-third reported it was easy to obtain alcohol from their own consenting parents. One in four teens responded that they had attended a party where minors were drinking in front of parents. Here in Alexandria, in focus groups in 2008, some students said alcohol is easy to get.
To be sure, the majority of parents in Alexandria do not host underage drinking parties and they take measures to ensure that alcohol is not consumed by youth at their homes. But for those parents and adults who are social hosts, its time to take note of this new law and recognize the risks both to themselves and to our youth. 
SAPCA was pleased to partner with Del. Herring to obtain passage of this Social Host law. Now the real work begins. Working with the Alexandria Police Department and the Commonwealth Attorneys office, we hope to engage the entire community in changing the norms concerning parties and other situations where alcohol is provided to underage youth.