Herald American

Program seeks to limit alcohol sales to minors

NORWALK — After two years of visiting 60 merchants whose stores sell alcoholic beverages for off-site consumption, Steve Moua and staff members conducting the merchants commitment program are hoping most merchants will “make a commitment.”

That commitment is to continue efforts to reduce the sale of alcoholic beverages to minors by following information and suggestions given by Moua’s prevention team in a series of visits to the stores over a 40-week period.

Working with the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, the stores were selected by a review of the community and contacting the store owners, Moua said.

Participation was voluntary, he said.

Moua, the prevention coordinator for the program, is based at Fedde International Studies Academy in the ABC Unified School District in Hawaiian Gardens and is part of the regional Helpline Youth Counseling Services, with offices throughout the county.

As of August, 14 merchants had made the commitment, a Helpline spokesperson said.

“We go to them with information on preventing alcohol sales to minors,” Moua said. “We don’t expect them to come to us.”

That information includes how to spot forged or phony identification by alcoholic beverages buyers, store layout and advertising limits.

To both prevent thefts and discourage illegal sales to youths under age 21, the merchants are advised to keep the beverages in a safe place, not in front of the store and to remove advertising posters promoting alcoholic beverage sales.

The only out-of-store action is a four-hour annual responsive beverage service session, which a store owner and all employees attend.

The session includes keeping merchants up to date on alcoholic beverage laws and outlining the various suggestions on store layout and limited or no advertising, Moua said.

It’s at that time when owners are asked to pledge or make the commitment of eliminating sales to minors.

Such a policy helps the community as underage drinking often leads to crimes and acts of violence, but it also can help the merchant by making the store more efficient, enhancing its appearance and even improving profits, said Moua, who has a bachelor of science degree in business from Oregon State University.

He has been with Helpline for 10 years.

The Merchants’ Commitment Program was funded by a $200,000 grant from the state Health Department and was for Norwalk only.

There are no plans by Helpline to start a similar program in other cities although such projects may be conducted by other agencies, Moua said.

However, his prevention group is also part of a countywide program to halt the abuse of marijuana and prescription drugs.

Moua expects that approval of a state ballot measure Nov. 8 to make recreational marijuana use legal could increase the number of minors trying the substance.

“To the minds of many youths, if a substance such as cigarettes or alcoholic beverages are ‘legal’ then it’s all right for them to use,” he said.

Helpline Youth Counseling is a nonprofit agency established in 1967 by a group of parents concerned with juvenile delinquency, the Helpline website states.

It has additional offices in Norwalk, Long Beach and is based at 14181 Telegraph Road in unincorporated South Whittier.

Jeff Farber is the executive director.