Enforcement of Social Host Ordinances Can Help Deter Underage Drinking During Prom, Graduation and Throughout the Summer
Prom, graduation and summer vacation are synonymous with youthful celebration. This time of year is exciting for youth and parents alike, as momentous milestones are met. However, it can also be a time for risky experimentation and unfortunate consequences, particularly related to underage drinking.
Some parents may be tempted to host after-prom and graduation parties where alcohol is provided, thinking that they can better protect teens by providing supervision and by keeping them from driving drunk. However, underage drinking, regardless of the setting, is illegal. It is also dangerous.
Social Host Ordinances (SHO) have been adopted in all cities and unincorporated areas of San Diego County to help reduce the problems of underage drinking. Anyone who hosts a party, gathering or event where minors are consuming alcohol may be cited and/or arrested, fined up to $1,000, incarcerated for up to six months or billed for police services.
The North Coastal Prevention Coalition (NCPC) recently attended law enforcement briefings in the cities of Carlsbad, Oceanside, and Vista to provide an update on social host ordinances, and share community support for enforcing underage drinking laws.  Based on feedback from 150 law enforcement surveys collected, 93% were aware of the social host ordinance and 82% believe it is an effective tool for reducing underage drinking at private parties.  Law enforcement officers are also very aware of the extent of underage drinking, with 83% agreeing that most underage drinking takes place at private parties and 70% reporting responding to calls for service in the past year where underage drinking was occurring at private parties.  NCPC’s recent evaluation of the Social Host Ordinances in Carlsbad, Oceanside and Vista indicate that there have been 75 SHO citations issued in these cities between July 2007 to July 2010.  While outcomes vary by case, the potential of court appearances, a criminal record, and steep fines should give party hosts ample reason to make sure they take reasonable precautions to prevent underage drinking in their homes.  SHO define these ‘reasonable steps’ as: 1) Controlling access to alcohol; 2) Limiting the quantity of alcohol; 3) Verifying age of party guests; and 4) Supervising the activities of minors.
In addition to surveys from law enforcement, NCPC has collected hundreds of surveys from teens and adults throughout the Tri-City area.  Both groups agree that house parties are a top spot for teen drinking; 85% of youth (n=335) and 84% of adults (n=327) indicated house parties as one of the most common places where underage drinking occurs. This confirms the need to educate the community about SHO and encourage law enforcement to utilize SHO to prevent and stop underage drinking parties.
Due to the potential for increases in underage drinking during this time of year, NCPC supports both Tri-City law enforcement and community members to utilize the SHO in an effort to prevent the harms of underage drinking. The public can report underage drinking parties to their local law enforcement agency:
• Carlsbad Police Department- 760-931-2197
• Oceanside Police Department- 760-435-4900
• Vista Sheriff’s Non-emergency- 760-940-4300

In addition, NCPC recommends parents follow these tips to help keep teens safe and sober during prom and graduation:
• Never provide alcohol or drugs to your teen or others.
• Communicate with your teens regularly and openly about alcohol and drugs.
• Communicate with other parents about your expectations and theirs.
• Discuss your expectations and rules for prom and graduation, other activities & outings.
• Know who will be driving and what your teen’s plans are.
• Remind your teen not to use alcohol or drugs, or ride in a vehicle with anyone under the influence.

How to Prevent Underage Drinking