The North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission is launching a statewide campaign to reduce underage drinking in the state.

Jim Gardner, Chairman of the ABC Commission, said Monday's announcement couldn't have come at a better time, especially since April is Alcohol Awareness Month.

“Young people can go online right now from China and get a false North Carolina driver's license that is almost impossible to tell between the real one and a false ID. There is a law right now that if you are convicted of having a false ID you can lose your driver's license for a year. That is the kind of thing that we want young people to understand,” said Gardner.

Gardner says a 2009 study on Drug Use and Health said 39 percent of eighth graders and 72 percent of 12th graders report that they have tried alcohol at least once in their lifetime.

“The worst of all is that we lose one child per week in underage drinking-related accidents and that was as of last year.” Gardner added, “In North Carolina, the Department of Health and Human Services in 2010 estimated that underage drinking caused the state of NC about $1.3 billion in various costs of all kinds, a lot of it in health costs.”

The alcohol business is a $5-billion industry in North Carolina. According to Gardner, the state receives around $500-million in taxes and other revenues from alcohol sales. He said the Commission's statewide initiative to reduce underage drinking includes collaborations with local organizations and an aggressive media campaign.

“What we are going to try to do is to pattern what we are doing along the lines of really what was done with the tobacco problem. We are going to use education starting in the middle schools, education with the parents through radio, TV and billboards.”

Gardner said, “We plan to go to the General Assembly in the short session, which is coming up May and ask for funding for this program for $3-million.

The ABC Commission currently has around $1.5 million in funds that it will use to conduct additional focus group interviews with parents across the state. Later this month, the agency also plans to meet with major alcohol vendors, including Food Lion and Harris Teeter to talk about their alcohol training programs for employees.

Follow Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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