Social Responsibility in the Control States

Control states regulate alcohol licensing and enforce a wide range of policies, but perhaps their top priority is serving the public. Social responsibility issues make up a large portion of every state’s overall initiatives. But how do control states go about getting their messages across, and how do they ensure that they do so effectively?

Looking at several states across the country, StateWays noticed several trends. Some states are implementing comprehensive long-term action plans in an effort to reduce and potentially eliminate underage drinking. Young people continue to be the focus of many responsible drinking campaigns, while parents are the primary audience of others. Additionally, many states have proven successful when partnering with external community groups in order to widen their audience and maximize available resources.

Empowering Youth to Take Action

A number of states are stressing the importance of focusing on the college-aged population and responsible drinking initiatives during the upcoming year. Through interactive programming and empowering young people to instigate change in their own communities, control states are successfully coordinating student ambassadors to broadcast their social responsibility messages.

Several agencies have assisted in the creation of conferences designed to raise awareness about social responsibility issues. The Idaho State Liquor Division (ISLD) is one of the organizations that helped to develop the Northwest Alcohol Conference, a bi-annual event held in Boise, ID. This conference attracts more than 500 attendees from around the country, including professionals, who work in the area of prevention, and also youth, who are interested in learning about responsible drinking measures and sharing that information with their individual communities.

“The format of the conference has proven to be extremely successful in the past, especially with the youth attendees,” says Jeff Anderson, director of the ISLD and chairman of the NABCA. “We encourage youth to take the things they learn at the conference and bring them back home to share with their communities. It’s much more impactful when the youth are the ones sharing the information with their peers rather than having a 50-year-old guy in a suit [like me] talk about it.”

The next Northwest Alcohol Conference will be held July 16-18. The ISLD supports the initiative by providing funding and volunteers. Additional fundraising support is provided by the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA).

According to Eddie Wirt, Director of Policy, Planning, and Education with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), his state is also making youth outreach programs a priority focus area for 2014.

“High-school and college-aged youth are often at a much higher risk for alcohol abuse,” Wirt says. “People who start drinking at a young age are more likely to continue abusing alcohol throughout their life. There’s also a very high percentage of abuse within this age group.”

Targeting Students

One of Virginia’s youth-focused initiatives is its College Tour program. This spring, College Tour will visit two college campuses in the state, and will travel to another two to three campuses in the fall. These one-day conferences are geared toward educating student leaders, as well as faculty, staff, and other professionals who work with young people and are concerned with responsible drinking issues. The conference program features a keynote speaker and separate breakout sessions for students and professionals, focusing on topics such as “Bystander Intervention” and “Getting Wasted: A Sociological Approach to Drinking.” Up to 200 participants are expected to attend each conference. The events are free for students and cost $20 for professionals. Funding for the program is provided by the Virginia ABC and additional support is given by NABCA.

“We want to encourage conversations between students, faculty, and staff, and help them engage in collaborative discussions about the issues facing their campus,” says Katie Weaks, Manager of Education and Prevention with the Virginia ABC.

Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board (PLCB) has created a new program this year targeting students, known as the High School/Middle School Alcohol Awareness Video Contest. Funded through a NABCA grant, this new initiative takes the form of a contest for all middle- and high-school students across the state. The agency reached out to school superintendents to announce the contest, and also promoted it via press releases and social media channels. Students were asked to create compelling 15- to 30-second videos articulating anti-underage drinking messages to their peers. Submissions were accepted through mid-February, and a panel consisting of PLCB staff as well as external individuals will judge the contest and determine the winners. Cash prizes will be awarded to the winning students, ranging in amounts of $100 to $1,000. An additional $1,000 prize will be given to the school with the most video submissions. The winners will be recognized during an awards ceremony which will take place during the PLBC’s annual conference in April.

In addition to generating buzz for the anti-underage drinking campaign through the contest itself, the PLCB hopes to use some of the video submissions to continue promoting their messages via Facebook and other outreach campaigns.

“We haven’t engaged this age group before with regards to asking them to provide us with the messages,” says Jerry W. Waters, Sr., Director of the Office of Regulatory Affairs with the PLBC. “This contest gives students the opportunity to be very creative, and to develop messages that are relevant to each other. At that age, you tend to hear your parents, but you listen to your peers. We are hoping this approach proves successful and can continue.”

Depending on the success of the program and the availability of additional funding in 2015, the video contest may run again in Pennsylvania next year.

Focusing on Parents

Social responsibility is an ongoing effort, and several states have devoted a considerable amount of resources in recent years to developing strategic long-term action plans. Surprisingly, some of these programs don’t put young people at the forefront: the primary target audience is parents.

In 2006, the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) submitted a proposal to the state legislature requesting ongoing funding to launch a comprehensive underage drinking initiative. That same year, the Eliminating Alcohol Sales to Youth (EASY) law enforcement compliance check program was signed into law, limiting youth access to alcohol at off-premise beer retailers, such as grocery and convenience stores. EASY funds quarterly local law enforcement alcohol compliance checks, and provides mandatory standardized off-premise consumption retailer employee training.

In addition to signing statewide compliance checks into law, the Utah DABC contracted with an external advertising and communications firm in 2006 to create Parents Empowered, a statewide initiative targeting parents as primary influencers in their children’s decisions of whether to participate in underage drinking.

“We knew we needed to get the word out to the public, and that it needed to be a prime-time campaign so people would actually see it,” says Douglas Murakami, Alcohol Education Director with the Utah DABC. “There have been many other campaigns out there like this, but ours is unique because it targets the parents instead of the kids. We know parents have a great influence on whether their kids drink. They’re actually the key influence in their kids’ lives.”

Parents Empowered consists of a multi-tiered media campaign incorporating television ads, radio spots, billboards, poster, social media pushes, and more. A comprehensive website,, is a prevention-based hub that provides a guided user experience for parents who are interested in learning about the many different steps in the prevention process. The site also features an alternate design in Spanish, which is more than just a translation: it has been completely culturally revamped to meet the specific needs of this secondary audience.

It’s important to note that the goal of Utah’s program isn’t just to create a media campaign: it is to shift the culture of parents in general, many of whom Murakami says did not believe alcohol was considered a drug, or that underage drinking was a major problem in Utah. To that end, the initial phases of the program featured awareness messaging. Over time, messaging shifted to be more educational in nature. Specific campaigns were also crafted for different regions within the state in an effort to give them more of a local feel specific to their area.

Ultimately, Utah’s goal is to eliminate underage drinking in the state. The Parents Empowered program has been running for eight years now and shows no signs of slowing down. The Utah DABC also has concrete statistics that illustrate the program’s success rate. According to Monitoring the Future, an ongoing study of the behaviors of children and young adults, the number of minors nationally who admitted to using alcohol within a 30-day period fell by 23% between 2005 and 2013. In the state of Utah, that rate dropped by 40%. Similarly, the trends in lifetime prevalence of use of alcohol dropped nationally by 17% between 2005 and 2013. During the same time period, Utah’s lifetime prevalence of use rate declined by 26%. 

Collaborative Efforts with Community Partners

Utah’s impressive program has inspired other states to follow suit by creating similar long-term strategies to combat underage drinking. North Carolina’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABC) launched a new program in early 2014 known as the Initiative to Reduce Underage Drinking. This program was created under the direction of North Carolina’s Governor, Pat McCrory, who took office in January 2013 and discussed the importance of curbing underage drinking in his inauguration speech. North Carolina ABC’s Commissioner, Jim Gardner, was appointed by McCrory and tasked with making underage drinking a focus of his administration.

The Initiative to Reduce Underage Drinking is unique because of its broad scope, which reaches across the state and currently involves nearly 80 collective organizations and coalitions. The primary mission of the new initiative is to change the culture of the state and impress upon the public that underage drinking is unacceptable under any circumstances. The agency seeks to partner more closely with existing groups that are producing quality prevention programs, finding ways to communicate more closely and share resources to maximize overall results.

As part of the development process, North Carolina conducted a series of nine focus groups across the state, receiving input from teenagers, parents, law enforcement agents, district attorneys, community leaders, prevention organizations, and more. The results of those focus groups were analyzed and used to develop the main focus areas of the initiative, which primarily target middle-school and high-school students.

“We need to stop our kids from ever drinking, and the best way to do that is to get that message across as early as possible,” explains Jan Pueschel, General Counsel to the North Carolina ABC. “We realize that this is going to be a lengthy process, and we expect it to be a 10-year program that will require ongoing maintenance well beyond that. It takes a long time to change the culture. And it’s not only the kids we need to reach out to. We need to change the culture of the parents as well.”

Currently, North Carolina is in the process of hiring an external media agency to manage the development of new campaigns to help get the initiative’s messages pushed out. Television ads, social media pushes, and websites are some of the mediums that will be used. One major concern the agency has is its ability to maintain funding to support these initiatives.

“We have applied for some grants, but they are not long-term,” Pueschel states. “We are currently lobbying for more funding, which is crucial to the overall success of the initiative.”

Several other states have incorporated external partnerships into their social responsibility programming as well. One of the Virginia ABC’s strategies for success is to partner with outside organizations on a variety of social responsibility initiatives, maximizing resources and controlling related costs. One such partnership is with the Virginia College Alcohol Leadership Council (VaCALC), a volunteer collaborative supported by academic and student services professionals who come together to work on prevention campaigns throughout the state. In addition to coordinating various retreats and workshops throughout the year, VaCALC also works with the Virginia ABC on larger initiatives such as the College Tour program.

This coming year, Virginia will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its Youth Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Program (YADAPP). A youth leadership organization, YADAPP focuses on preventing underage drinking among young people ages 13 to 20. An annual summer leadership conference is attended by more than 600 students from across the state. The students are empowered to work together to create Strategy to Act Now (STAN) plans, which are then implemented in the students’ own communities.

Another prevention program in Virginia is known as Project Sticker Shock. The agency provides community groups with supplies needed to organize events where red stop sign stickers are attached to alcohol product packaging in an effort to remind buyers that it is illegal to provide alcohol to minors. Virginia took over this program in 2002, but is in the process of overhauling it this year. Enhancements to Project Sticker Shock will include more uniform training for all community participants, modernization of materials, and increased marketing efforts.

Partnerships with external organizations and community members has also been a key part of Utah’s success with its Parents Empowered program. A recent collaboration between Utah and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) launched in January 2014, a month prior to the start of the Sochi Winter Olympics. According to Murakami, Utah hopes that the endorsement of the state’s messages by some of Utah’s most recognizable athletes will make both parents and kids sit back and take notice. The state has also partnered with Utah’s Waste Management division to create mobile billboards out garbage trucks, allowing the public to see campaign messages in unusual yet highly visible locations.

A new program for the PLBC is the HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers. Launched in December 2013 to tie in with the holiday season, this national initiative encourages licensees to provide free beverages, such as water or soft drinks, to people who identify themselves as designated drivers. The program is voluntary, but as of February 2014, more than 100 Pennsylvania licensees were already participating. The HERO program is sponsored by Red Robin, which currently offers free beverages to designated drivers at its 20 Pennsylvania franchise locations.

Enhancing Grant Programs

While each state sponsors many different initiatives geared toward social responsibility, they also recognize the need to empower outside individuals and organizations to do some of the work themselves. As a result, many states are exploring new grant programs.

The PLCB is concentrating on three major areas this year: underage drinking, dangerous drinking and DUIs. Enhanced grant programs are one way the agency is working to address these issues. Over the past several years, the PLCB increased the budget for its annual grant program from $750,000 to $2 million. In 2013, the agency overhauled its grant program, increasing the standard grant award from $15,000 to $20,000 and extending the traditional one-year-long grant cycle to two years. According to Waters, these increases not only give grant recipients more time to hone their individual programs, but the added time also allows the PLCB to have more time to evaluate the overall success of each program.

“These enhancements will help us better determine how effective a program is and how it benefits us by fitting into our statewide goals,” Waters says. “It also benefits the grantees by giving them more time to develop programs that they want.”

This year, the Virginia ABC is also spearheading a new grant opportunity for college students. All college campuses in Virginia are invited to apply to the program by submitting a proposal detailing plans for a spring break safety awareness program at their school. The Virginia ABC will award between five and ten $1,000 grants to different campuses to put toward their program.




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