Rhonda Pitchford, operations manager at Moab's north Maverick, checks a customers identification. [Photo by Pippa Thomas / Moab Sun News]

Buying alcohol is about to get harder for underage youth in Grand County. Starting in 2014, the Grand County Sheriff’s Office and Four Corner’s Community Behavioral Health will collaboratively implement youth-buy compliance checks at grocery and convenience stores where 3.2 beer is sold.

These compliance checks are an integral part of the state funded Eliminating Alcohol Sales to Youth (EASY) program, created in 2006. Funding for the compliance checks comes from state beer sales.

“It’s a compliance check that’s already been happening on other very similar substances, like cigarettes and liquor and heavy beer, so this closes the gap,” said Abby Scott, Four Corner’s prevention coordinator.

Youth ages 18 to 20 years old will be hired and trained to attempt to buy 3.2 beer from off-premise outlets to ensure that retailers follow legal regulations and do not sell to minors. They’ll conduct up to four “youth-buy” compliance checks a year.

“No one’s trying to trick anyone. We’re trying to create the expectation that underage people will not be able to buy alcohol in Grand County,” Scott said.

The push for the EASY Program compliance checks comes with an accompanying statewide education campaign from the Utah Highway Safety Office, which has been focusing to this point on the state’s high density population areas.

“Our goal for 2014 is to get to all of the outlying agencies to do full trainings,” said Jill Sorenson, Utah’s EASY Program Coordinator.

Sorenson will be providing a free training in Moab for retailers, law enforcement, and business license associates Dec. 17. The training will cover a variety of underage alcohol use related issues from legal requirements for beer retailers, to the harms of underage alcohol use and the important role other agencies, such as business licensing, play in the program’s success.

Though retailers have been required to take a Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH) approved training, they “have not had a training this in-depth,” Sorenson said of the EASY training she’ll be providing. “I thought it may be beneficial to the retailers to see the whole reason behind alcohol compliance. It is not mandatory for them.”

“I think it’s good stuff. The training looks like it’ll answer a lot of questions I’ve had,” said Rhonda Pitchford, the operations manager at Moab’s north Maverick convenience store.

Though there is data, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety website, that suggests compliance checks may lower alcohol sales to youth, even Sorenson admitted these checks are a small effort in the larger issue of eliminating underage drinking.

“Compliance checks at retailers is our low hanging fruit. But most kids get alcohol from home,” Sorenson said.

The 2013 Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) survey shows that the majority of Grand County students surveyed got alcohol from a source other than buying it from a retailer. These alternative sources primarily include people within the student’s social network, such as at a party, from a family member or friend old enough to legally buy alcohol.

The Utah legislature created the Parents Empowered program as a complement to EASY to address these social sources of underage drinking. Parents Empowered provides scientifically researched information about the harmful effects of alcohol on young people and also teaches parents and caregivers skills that have been proven to prevent underage alcohol use.

Their pamphlets, website, and television ads explain the many ways in which alcohol use impairs the brain’s normal development in young people into their twenties. Alcohol, their literature said, can damage the areas of a young brain responsible for good judgment, impulse control, memory and learning, and can wire it for addiction.

Parents Empowered states that that even a small amount of perceived parental acceptability of drinking can lead to alcohol use in young people. Conversely, parents’ clear and firm no-doubt-about-it disapproval of underage drinking is the number one reason kids choose to not drink.

“It takes the whole community to keep our kids safe,” Sorenson said.

“It’s a compliance check that’s already been happening on other very similar substances, like cigarettes and liquor and heavy beer, so this closes the gap.”

What: Eliminating Alcohol Sales to Youth Compliance Check Training

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 17

Where: Moab Fire Department Training Room, 45 South and 100 East

For more information, or to register: Call Jill Sorenson at 801-903-7078 or visit http://publicsafety.utah.gov/highwaysafety/EASY.html

Alcohol compliance training for grocery and convenience store employees