Local teens to “audit” alcohol advertisements


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Johnson County alcohol officials will soon give teens as young as 13 the go-ahead to scope out liquor ads at local stores.

But the teens won’t be looking to purchase. Instead, the volunteers will be helping the Mid-eastern Council on Chemical Abuse to increase alcohol awareness in Johnson County.

Katya Boltanova, a MECCA project coordinator, works specifically with alcohol-reduction projects, and said June 20 will see the kickoff of the advertisement audit. The project is the first in a five-step process to decrease binge drinking in the county.

Volunteers ages 13 to 19 will help conduct an alcohol audit by tracking how gas stations and grocery stores display their alcohol advertisements, Boltanova said. As of Tuesday, the organization has five volunteers, but it is accepting more.

“They will go in, count, and take note of the ads,” Boltanova said. “That will give us a baseline for what we need to measure.”

Volunteers will not be compensated, but she said, it will be a “good leadership building opportunity.”

She said the group has the responsibility of managing and planning the project, as well as reporting to coalitions in Johnson County.

“There is evidence that advertisements affect our decisions — if young people are exposed to these and they’re placed at eye level, kids will grow up being familiar with them,” she said.

And some youth are well aware of the alcohol ads.

“At gas stations, you always see the big posters facing outside — it’ll be like $12.99 for a 12 pack or whatever,” said University of Iowa sophomore Blake Cheney. “It probably makes kids think it’s a common, everyday item.”

All five phases of the initiative to decrease binge drinking are funded by a 2009 grant from the Iowa Department of Public Health. The $10.5 million, five-year Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant was distributed to 23 Iowa counties, which received roughly $100,000 each for original research and projects, said Stephen Arndt, the director of the Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation.

“That sounds like a lot of money, but it’s not so much if you figure that jail costs in Johnson County are something like $19 million, and the bulk of those people have alcohol problems,” Arndt said.

Not everyone thinks business owners tailor their ads to anyone in particular. Liquor Downtown owner Jason Caylor said even if his establishment’s ads were intended for a specific audience, he doesn’t think the ad placement would matter.

“People are already going in to buy it,” he said. “It’s not like it’s a spontaneous thing.”

Arndt said he’s optimistic about the outcome.

“Because we have data over time, the community can implement something, and in a year, we can look at it and see if things got better,” he said.

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