Drinking forum live blogging

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We’ve been concentrating on the issue of youth drinking in the last week or so. It culminated tonight in the UBS Forum at Minnesota Public Radio. It will be played on air on Tuesday’s Midmorning. As the forum closed tonight, the Midmorning folks were unclear whether both hours of this forum would be aired, or just the first. Feel free to post your comments, and let’s talk about this. You can also join a thread underway on Gather.com.

Live blogging

7:07 p.m. – “The issue is big and it touches our heart very deeply,” Michael Caputo of MPR’s Public Insight Network said, introducing tonight’s forum. And he’s right, of course. Shortly before the event started, we heard alcohol is suspected in another death in Mankato today. We’re all parents, and yes, we’ve all — mostly — been in college, so we know all about the ritual of drinking. We’re trying to figure out what’s changed — or even whether it’s changed — in this ritual that leaves people dead.

7:12 – Reporter Tom Weber interviewed several young people on Saturday night. A tape was played on when it’s OK to binge drink. “When you get a promotion or you get married,” said one young woman. “When you’re at home and your friends won’t just leave you to die,” said a young man.

What did the young people here in the forum think about what they just heard? Ben Marcy suggested we define binge drinking first. “A point where you’re vomiting,” he suggested. “Drew” said binge drinking is having more than 5 drinks an hour, or drinking for four days straight.

(More below the fold)


7:17 – “Is it acceptable?” Kerri asked, getting to the point of trying to understand this phenomenon. “I think it’s very acceptable,” a female student said. “I’d say the liquor flows pretty freely in Boston,” said a male student at Boston University. “It’s really a cultural thing,” he said. “And some of the kids who didn’t drink in high school get hit right in the face.”

7:23 – One student points out that binge drinking is more acceptable in Europe.

7:25 Reality check: Dr. Ed Ehlinger from Boynton Health Services at the University of Minnesota said his organization just surveyed 14 schools. Seventy-five percent have consumed some alcohol in the last 30 days. Thirty-seven percent have “binge-drinked” in the last month. Half of the people at the last party, he said, were legally drunk. (More here)

7:29 – I’m realizing what’s missing. Bar owners. In fact, in many of the stories around Minnesota on this issue, it’s the missing voice. One exception is the Mankato Free Press, which asked about the issue of banning drink specials back in October when the City Council was considering it.

But police have learned a new phrase: “Puke n’ rally,” referring to the practice of drinking until you vomit, then, instead of calling it a night, drinking some more.

Laws that prevent bars from selling alcohol to drunk people are difficult to enforce, starting with the difficulty of discerning at a glance how drunk someone is.

Perhaps the most obvious culprit in binge drinking are specials that allow customers unlimited drinks for a set price, sometimes $5. The pricing and the short duration of the offer create an incentive for heavy drinking.

Several years ago, St. Cloud banned specials that involve selling multiple drinks for a single price after 9 p.m., St. Cloud Police Sgt. Laurie Ellering said.

And while some here have raised enforcement questions, Ellering has spent lots of time at the night desk and can’t remember a time when police were called to enforce the law.

She says the law has been around for so long she can’t remember what effect, if any, it had. What is clear, however, is that binge drinking remains a problem in St. Cloud.

Fighting binge drinking is more complicated than putting an end to drink specials.

7:35 — Here’s an idea from someone at the University of Minnesota: Arrest the friends who put their binge drinking friends to bed and then walk away, leaving them to die. Cue the “personal responsibility” argument.

7:38 – Are parents clueless? One paramedic suggested parents have a too relaxed attitude and say, ‘I drank when I was his age.’. “It’s the parent’s responsibility,” another parent said. “We’ve got to set limits.”

Another parent said her son went off to college, spent most of the time drinking, and can home with one “D” and she felt the college let her down. “As a parent, they said I had not right to know,” she said.

A representative from Boynton Health Services said the amounts students are drinking is not like when their parents were in college. “I have one student who has cut down on his drinking, because now he’s drinking beer and not hard alcohol. He’s down to about 15 a night,” she said.

Reality check: The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh is conducting a study over time of students’ alcohol use, according to a story today on the school newspaper’s Web site.

7:51 – It’s in our genes! The list of heavy-drinking cities — mostly in the northern Midwest — is attributable, one expert said, to the people who settled the region. Germans, Scandanavians, step forward! This is not as far fetched as one might think. Germans, for example, were master brewers who plied their trade here. Very often, the brewery was the social center of the town.

A Green Bay newspaper tried to get at the roots of Wisconsin’s drinking culture a few years ago:

A brewery often was as important to a town as the church, offering German-Americans a place to congregate and catch up with friends and family, said Jerry Apps, a state historian who has written about Wisconsin breweries.

“They saw it as an opportunity for the family to get together,” Apps said. “The purpose wasn’t to see how much you could drink or how drunk you could get.”

Today, German-Americans make up 42.6 percent of Wisconsin’s population, according to the 2000 census.

Does this mean we can blame Germans the next time we drink too much? Not really, says Paul Schons, a German professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.

“I suppose Germans do drink somewhat more, and it’s more a part of the culture than many other places,” Schons said. “(But) sometimes I think the stereotype is Germans do nothing all day but sit around and drink beer.

“Scandinavians drank their mead, the British drink their ale, the French drink their wine. It’s a fairly common thing to Europe.”

7:56 – A paramedic (a different one than earlier) , who worked the We Fest last year said, “I must’ve seen 60 young women who were sexually assaulted and were extremely intoxicated.”

8:06 – “Our country is awash in liquor,” an older man said. “It is much, much, much easier for our kids to buy alcohol. This is like arresting the crack dealer on the street, and not doing anything about the plane coming in.”

8:09 – A 6th-grader notes that when he visits neighborhood friends, the liquor cabinets are out in the open and unlocked.

>> Shifting to solutions << (Various proposals in bold) 8:11 Raise liquor taxes.

Limit sponsorship of sporting events on college campuses

Arrest adults who provide alcohol to underage— This is the social hosting question. It’s become quite a controversial question, actually. Just ask Chaska. The city took action because it got tired of waiting for Carver County.

8:16 – “Are there any parents here who say, ‘well, they’re going to drink anyway, so I’d rather they do it in the safety of my home’?” Kerri asks. No.

8:19 – Ingrid of Minneapolis submits this online comment:

My son almost died in high school with a blood alcohol content of 3.2. I have never slept soundly since being woken that nite by an er doc who said he was going to put him on a respirator. If his friends had not taken him to the ER, he would have died. We need to give friends a pass who are brave enough to take care of their friends. If I hadn’t been in a state of shock after that, I would have brought charges against the mother at the house where the party took place. My son was grounded for weeks. I am a teacher at the U; if students aren’t in class every day, their grades suffer. Oddly, they still prize their grades. Kids (even young adults) need consequences. Let’s give them to them!

8:20 – Solution offered: Do not allow bars to offer drink specials. A woman responds that as a young woman, it doesn’t matter how much it costs. “People are going to buy me drinks,” she said.

But a 2003 Harvard study says such an ordinance could help:

In 2003, the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study examining the alcohol environment surrounding college campuses and assessed the impact the environment had on students. The study, which surveyed more than 10,000 students on 118 college campuses, concluded that alcohol promotions, sale prices and marketing had a direct effect on the alcohol consumption of college students.

8:33 The discussion is turning to the marketing of alcohol on campus. As the Washington Post found last year, watch what happens when March Madness starts.

8:35 – Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association director Jim Farrell says he’s like to see a ban on campus advertising. “I was the only guy who fought Northrup Auditorium getting a liquor license. Everyone wants the money, but when there’s a problem, it’s someone else’s problem.”

He said in St. Cloud, a liquor store owner turned over photographs in the investigation of the young man who died of alcohol poisoning a couple of weeks ago. He said the kid didn’t buy the liquor, “but here’s photographs of his four buddies who did.” What now, St. Cloud?

8:39 – Dime a drink tax increase – I hesitate to even blog this suggestion because these are minutes I can’t get back. On the heels of the smoking ban? It’s beyond dead on arrival at the Capitol. It’s dead on departure. Still, you can hear the undercurrent of legislative initiatives being spawned. I wonder if there are any Republicans here.

8:50 – This is a program that has been mentioned a couple of times tonight. It’s what Moorhead State University is doing. A 15- week class, Alcohol and College Life.

8:51 – Finis

  • Marie

    SIN Taxes will not solve underage drinking – I have worked in the service industry for 10 years. I have yet to see consumers slow there intake on liquor and beer due to tax hikes. This is not the solution. If you make drinking a taboo, youth will want to do it.

  • bsimon

    Did anyone point out that the prohibition approach, once again, appears to be a dismal failure?

    Now that the gov’t has chosen to prosecute parents who are trying to introduce their children to alcohol in a responsible manner & controlled environment, why would we expect that kids would treat alcohol responsibly? We’re basically saying, no, parents can’t give their kids alcohol at home, so people – or the ones that follow the law anyway – don’t experiment with alcohol until they’re out of their parents’ house. If a person has never drunk alcohol before & their friends take them out to the bar and goad them into doing ’21 shots for 21 years’ how are they supposed to know it could kill them?

    And nevermind the booze itself, why are we now expecting schools to regulate our kids’ behavior out of school? What happened to parenting? If a student shows up to class drunk, the school certainly has an obligation to discipline the child & notify the parents. But when a kid posts a picture on a myspace page that implies they’re sneaking booze, why is it the school’s obligation to discipline them? Its absolutely ludicrous.

  • Justin McMartin

    I attended the forum last night and a lot of great discussion was had. I had one last thing I wanted to add input on before the forum ended. I was able to speak to why students drink and drink excessively but didn’t get a chance to talk about solutions.

    The one solution I think is very important that was brought up during the forum is education. Several parents felt that colleges needed to play a heavier role in the process of educating and informing students about the dangers. I completely agree that this is a role a college or a university should play. They can also do a better job of educating all staff who interact with students on the warning signs that a student would exhibit if commonly abusing alcohol or other drugs. I do disagree that a school should be required to contact the student’s parents in regards to an alcohol violations or other behavior violations, because the student is an adult and has that right afforded to them upon becoming an adult.

    Solution two is regarding implementing the idea that passing out from drinking is not safe. I believe the University of Minnesota and HCMC are pushing a 911 program which encourages students to call 911 when a friend passes out after a night of drinking that they very likely need medical attention. So this sort of behavior needs to be encourage, which brings be to the third solution of Medical Amnesty programs.

    Medical Amnesty programs allow students to seek medical attention for themselves or friends in alcohol related emergencies to not face judicial punishment by the college or university. This is controversial but a number of colleges around the country are using this approach to ensure safety of their students. They are not designed as get out of jail free program but a program that encourages communication about drinking problems and many require that students involve speak with counselors about the situation.

    The problem goes much deeper than some of these solutions but these solutions, I feel, are things our colleges and universities can do today to start saving students’ lives.

  • Bob Collins

    BSIMON, it seems to me the legislature paved the way for schools to hold students accountable for ALL online actitivities when it told school boards they were now required to consider the Internet when developing anti-bullying policies.

    Bullying, of course, isn’t the issue here, but I admit to be astounded at the Legislature’s action last year, and by the relatively few people who bothered to ask by what authority schools can oversee the non-school-hours activities of its students.

    Of course, keep in mind here that many of these kids were athletes who submitted to a pledge on non-school-hours activity. I believe that’s what the school you’re referring to is standing on.

    BTW, the last time I checked, I think it’s legal in Wisconsin for kids to drink in restaurants if their parents are with them.

    Good idea or bad?

  • Maria Jette

    I haven’t had a chance to listen to the program yet, and plan to do that online right now (Tuesday). Based on the blog comments above, though, I think my questions weren’t discussed.

    1. Aren’t most undergrads underage? And if so, wouldn’t it be pretty simple for campus cops to just walk in and arrest everyone at a loud party? And how about those staggering about in public? It seems that there’s no enforcement of the age laws– I don’t even hear any TALK about enforcing those laws. It seems the cops are only involved when someone dies.

    2. When I was a student in the late 70’s, the drinking age went from 18 to 19– that made it tricky to figure out who was of age at a party, BUT also meant we had lots of big OFFICIAL (i.e. permitted by the admin) alcohol-laden parties on campus! Perhaps because there was that safety valve, I don’t recall anything like the weekday binge drinking I’m hearing about with today’s students.

    3. How do college students AFFORD binge drinking? I guess I was fairly impoverished in my Hamline days– when I read about a kid going through 15 beers a night, I try to imagine how I could have come up with that much money. Maybe parents should consider keeping their kids on a shorter financial leash.

    I’d be interested to hear from some students (including the high school students who are bingers) about the cost of their partying, and where they get the money for it.