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E.A.S.Y. to target drinking

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The E.A.S.Y. program originated in Torrance, Calif., in 1988.

The E.A.S.Y. program originated in Torrance, Calif., in 1988.

PROVO — County and municipal leaders in Utah County are taking the E.A.S.Y. approach to solving underage drinking problems.

The county's 23 municipalities joined with the county in drafting an ordinance that will implement the Eliminate Alcohol Sales to Youth program county-wide over the next several months. Utah County commissioners signed on to program Tuesday by adopting a proclamation to implement the ordinance, which will beef up penalties for sales clerks who make the illegal sales. The ordinance also includes mandatory training and testing for the clerks to help ensure compliance.

It appears that in recent years, buying beer has not been a difficult task for Utah County youths, according to statistics released by the Utah County Division of Substance Abuse.

In 2003, 575 county youths were cited for illegal consumption of alcohol, 321 teens were involved in alcohol-related car crashes, and alcohol was cited as the most common date-rape drug in the county, according to the substance abuse statistics.

"It's a major concern," said Pat Bird, county substance abuse prevention program manager.

That is why county leaders are looking to the E.A.S.Y. way out, following the lead of Torrance, Calif., where the program originated in 1988 and which has since spread nationwide.

In Utah, Cedar City adopted a similar program in 2000 that cut alcohol-related arrests of youths by 62 percent. A more recent effort in Springville has cut underage alcohol use arrests by 54 percent.

The county-wide ordinance is intended hold individual store clerks more accountable if they sell alcohol to teens by fining them and suspending their beer handler permits.

Typically, when a clerk sells alcohol to a minor, the store owner is held accountable. Under the new program, a stronger onus will be placed on the employee.

Retailers are responsible for determining the age of beer buyers by checking a legal form of identification such as a driver's license, as per state law. They are also responsible for teaching their clerks to be vigilant in watching for teens who attempt to purchase alcohol.

As part of E.A.S.Y, all retail grocery and convenience store clerks in Utah County would be required to obtain a beer handler's permit by July, said Richard Nance, director of the Division of Substance Abuse.

To receive a permit, "clerks will be trained on how to identify fake identification, judge age and successfully intervene when an underage person tries to buy alcohol," Nance said.

After going through training, clerks will be required to pass a written test before receiving a beer handler's permit. Employees will be required to display the permit while they are working. To keep the permit, they must comply with the law.

The program is expected to affect 144 retailers and approximately 4,000 store clerks in Utah County.

The county will also work with local law enforcement to ensure that retailers are in compliance by actively checking their performance. Employees who violate state or local laws will have their permits suspended while multiple violations will result in a fine and the permit being suspended for up to three years.

The 23 cities are expected to follow the county lead shortly. There will be some variance in the ordinance because city requirements vary regarding alcohol sales, Nance said. For example, some cities allow clerks as young as age 18 to sell alcohol; in others, clerks must be 21.

Funding for the program will come partly through state beer tax allocations and partly through federal monies.

Nance said he believes this will be the first time an entire county has implemented the E.A.S.Y. program.

"It's been a proven success in other cities," Nance said. "We foresee this making a big difference in the county."

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com