The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 13, 2012

Real cost of underage drinking

Young people gambling with their futures

The Tribune-Democrat

— Underage drinking isn’t a new fad or a new problem.

Teenagers have been sneaking a beer or a mixer here or there for, well, forever.

Many parents, especially those who drink themselves, don’t fret much. They see it as a part of the growing-up process for their youngsters.

That is, until serious consequences result – such as a traffic accident, an arrest or worse.

State Sen. Jake Corman recognizes the downside of young people drinking alcohol and has addressed it. The Centre County legislator was the sponsor of a new Pennsylvania law taking effect Dec. 24 that boosts the maximum fine for underage drinking to $500 from $300 and doubles the maximum for subsequent offenses to $1,000.

We don’t have a problem with that, but we agree with Kutztown police Chief Craig Summers, who said, “I don’t think when underage people are drinking that they’re even thinking about” the fine.

He said the maximum should be $1,000 even for a first offense.

This week, Corman says he plans to revisit the issue in the next legislative session. His bill would allow municipalities that include all or part of a university or college to impose an additional $100 fee for alcohol-related offenses to help finance local prevention programs. That bill died at the end of the past legislative session.

“Any time you talk about raising fees, people get nervous,” Corman said when asked why the fee failed to gain support.

Corman says the higher fines going into effect later this month are designed to help communities such as State College, home to Penn State University, afford the spiraling cost of prosecuting alcohol-related crime and to discourage underage drinking.

While fining young people – or is it really the parents who pay the price? – might get the message across, we believe that education is the key.

Young people need to be aware of the real costs: That their initial driving privileges can be delayed; that arrests could affect their acceptance into a college or a branch of the armed forces, or that an arrest could keep them from being hired for a job.

Sneaking an occasional beer or mixed drink in the basement or garage at home – though still illegal – probably will cause no problems for young people. Having several in public or when operating the family car can come with huge consequences.

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