GREENWICH — A coalition of three-dozen community organizations known as Greenwich Together is not letting the COVID-19 pandemic stand in the way of its work to reduce drinking and smoking by teenagers in town.
The coalition’s main focus is to educate local retailers on following the law and not selling alcohol and tobacco products to minors, including at stores, bars and restaurants.
“Studies have shown that if you reduce access to the substance, that it reduces use,” said Ellen Brezovsky, a leader of Greenwich Together and assistant director of outreach and prevention services at the Greenwich-based Kids In Crisis nonprofit.
In 2019, Greenwich Together received a Drug Free Communities Grant, a five-year federal award totaling $500,000 to alleviate the substance use problem among minors. The grant was used to support compliance checks last year and this year at establishments in town, according to Brezovsky, prevention coordinator for the Drug Free Communities grant.
“The whole point is really to get the liquor stores to not sell to underage youth, and to be vigilant about checking IDs,” especially while people are wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, Brezovsky said.
“This is a strategy to enforce consequences, because if somebody fails this compliance check, they get reported to the state liquor board and they could lose their liquor license,” she said.
Last July, Greenwich Police conducted the first of two rounds of compliance checks, in which an underage decoy, while using a fake identification, tries to purchase alcohol or tobacco from local retailers.
In the checks, six of the 12 stores failed, by serving alcohol to the an underage decoy and/or by not checking the identification. In a similar check of 11 stores that sell tobacco, including vaping products, five stores failed.
When police retested the same 12 liquor establishments in September, the results improved, with only four that were noncompliant. Similarly, when police retested the same 11 stores selling tobacco and vaping products in October, only three were noncompliant.
Compliance checks are conducted regularly by the Greenwich Police Department, which usually works with members of the State Liquor Commission and the Department of Revenue Services. But the COVID-19 pandemic and budget concerns kept the state from participating in person in the past year.
Greenwich Together stepped in to fill the monetary gap, providing $2,400 of supplementary funding from the Drug Free Communities Grant to the police department. The grant will pay for two more compliance checks in 2021, according to Brezovsky.
Educating retailers is an important part of the program, Greenwich Police Sgt. John Thorme said.
Officers returned to the stores the day after the checks to identify the staff member who sold alcohol to the minor and educated store owners and managers about the state’s liquor and tobacco laws and the possible fines, said Thorme, who led the routine compliance checks.
In spring, Brezovsky and a Greenwich police officer plan to offer “TIPs training” to workers who serve alcohol in restaurants, bars, hotels and other establishments.
The training will offer guidance on properly checking IDs and refraining from illegally serving underage customers, she said.
They also plan to offer tips on how to avoid overserving patrons, give strategies to keep drunken patrons from driving home and how to handle belligerent customers.
“These are part of our strategies to help curb underage drinking and make it a safer community,” Brezovksy said.
Conducting teen surveys
In 2018, a youth survey by Greenwich Together showed consistent increases in the use of alcohol, marijuana and electronic cigarettes by high school students in town. According to the survey, 55 percent of 12th-graders had used alcohol within 30 days of taking the survey.
Also, 66 percent of 12th-graders said they could easily access electronic cigarettes, while 51 percent of those seniors said they could easily get cigarettes, the survey found.
Greenwich Together plans to conduct another student survey in February and will compare those results to the 2018 survey.
Brezovksy said the compliance checks can educate retailers and thereby limit minors’ access to alcohol and cigarettes. In a “multifaceted” way, it can help prevent underage drinking, which leads to better health outcomes in the long run for the community, she added.
“I think it also lessens the chance of addiction because the studies have also shown that when you delay youth of any substance, you’re lowering risk of addiction in the long term, so it’s a huge strategy to prevent addiction,” she said of the compliance checks.
Addiction can lead to negative interactions with police, said Thorme, and the disease costs society — and the struggling person — in ample ways.
“Once someone is addicted, it’s a lifelong problem,” Brezovsky said.
This article was written by Tatiana Flowers and was originally published on CT Post.
Photo: Michael Cummo / Hearst Connecticut Media