MURRAY — It's going to take a lot of word of mouth, but authorities are hoping that nine high school students here can help teach their peers that teenage girls and alcohol are a bad mix.
"What we're trying to do is use them as role models," said Dana Fudurich with The Century Council, a national nonprofit organization funded by leading alcohol distillers to fight drunken driving and underage drinking.
The audience for the Utah kickoff of the council's "Girl Talk" campaign was nine members of Murray High School's girls soccer team, who spent their lunch hour Tuesday learning about how alcohol affects their bodies differently than it does their male counterparts, as well as strategies to combat peer pressure and talk to their parents about drinking.
"You girls can be a real impact on your friends, both the guys and the gals," said Larry Lunt, chairman of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.
Nationally, underage drinking has dropped significantly over the past decade, but consumption rates for girls have declined more slowly.
The main goal of the campaign, Fudurich said, is to open up a dialogue between mothers and daughters about underage drinking.
According to a recent Century Council survey, less than 10 percent of mothers believe their daughters drink. In reality, the survey found, 16 percent of 13- to 15-year-old girls and 30 percent of 16- to 18-year-olds reported drinking with friends.
"There's this big knowledge gap going on here," Fudurich said.
To raise public awareness about underage drinking, the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control next month will launch a separate, $1.6 million educational campaign directed largely at parents.
"We're trying to help them understand (the problems posed by underage drinking)," Lunt said. "We believe that once they know this it won't be taken as casually."
According to Century Council figures, 38 percent of mothers say it is OK for their daughters to drink alcohol on special occasions, and 21 percent approve of their children drinking at home with parental supervision.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who also addressed the teens, said the numbers illustrate a "disturbing misperception" about the seriousness of underage drinking. Shurtleff encouraged the young athletes to educate themselves about alcohol and its effects.
"Use your heads. Be smart," he said. "Know the facts. Talk to your parents about it."
Drinking and peer pressure are a problem at every high school, and Murray is no exception, the girls said Tuesday. But teens can, and do, have the strength to resist it.
"If you fall into it, it's kind of your fault," said 16-year-old Kaity Kelsey. "I wouldn't blame it on the person that's pressuring you."
The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team is a partner in the Girls Talk campaign, and players often address teenage soccer players at rallies around the country. Travel problems kept a professional player from the Murray stop on Tuesday, according to Fudurich.