Teens in West Baton Rouge Parish are drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco at much higher rates compared to other teenagers across the state and nation, a new report suggests.
A Drug Free Communities Needs Assessment report from the parish’s Healthy Community Coalition also revealed that approximately a third of West Baton Rouge Parish high school seniors admitted to it being “easy or sort of easy” for minors to buy alcohol at local stores.
“I wasn’t really shocked,” said Gary Spillman, chairman of the West Baton Rouge Parish Council. “The only thing that shocked me was that West Baton Rouge was higher in some areas than national standards. I didn’t think we would be leading the pack in some of those areas.”
Spillman and the rest of the council recently received the 2015 report from the parish’s Healthy Community Coalition — a group of community stakeholders, elected officials and local teens seeking to curtail underage substance abuse.
The report targeted alcohol as the most common substance abused by local teens with tobacco use among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders following in second.
The data was culled from the Caring Communities Youth Survey that was completed by more than 100,000 Louisiana students in 2014.
In West Baton Rouge, 26 eighth-graders participated in the survey, 72 10th-graders and 75 high school seniors, according to the report.
More than a third of the 12th-graders polled in the report say they have engaged in binge drinking. And the binge drinking rates within the peer group are higher than state, national and regional rates, the report states.
The most common ways local teens admitted to getting alcohol was from someone they knew over the age of 21 and from their parents with permission or some other family member or relative.
Out of the third of seniors who indicated it was easy to purchase alcohol at local stores, the report says 10 percent of them admitted to buying alcohol in the parish with fake IDs. About 17 percent revealed they could buy alcohol in West Baton Rouge Parish without needing a fake ID.
Troy Hebert, commissioner for the Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control, said the data isn’t alarming, but it is on par with what his agents are seeing when they do annual compliance checks throughout the region.
According to data from his office, Hebert says the noncompliance rate for businesses that sell alcohol and tobacco to underage teens in West Baton Rouge Parish is slightly higher than the state average of 15 percent.
“West Baton Rouge runs about a 20 percent non-compliance rate,” Hebert said. “That means 20 percent of the businesses we check actually sell to minors — so, 80 percent don’t.”
West Baton Rouge’s noncompliance rate is 2 percent higher than East Baton Rouge Parish and 5 percent higher than the rate in Pointe Coupee and Livingston parishes, according to ATC data.
“Any percentage of alcohol sales to underage people is not good,” Hebert said. “If a business does sell to someone underage they’re put on a list where they are checked more often and either fined and/or their liquor license is suspended or revoked.”
Spillman said the report did shed light on things for parish leaders and could lead to the council implementing its own disciplinary actions to businesses caught selling to minors.
Vivian Gettys, director of the parish’s Drug Free Community Program, said the coalition also will use part of the $125,000 grant funding it received last year to perform the study to also implement vendor training for local businesses and training sessions with local law enforcement to make sure consequences are being enforced by authorities.
“We want to make sure teenagers are getting carded when they go in stores,” Gettys said.
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