Westchester County officials are hammering home the message that underage drinking will not be tolerated.
Representatives from the county, the City of White Plains and Heineken USA met at the beer company's White Plains offices Tuesday and announced that they are teaming up for the "Don't Serve Teens" campaign.
The national campaign, which was started by the Federal Trade Commission, relies on advertisements, stickers and other materials to discourage the sale of alcohol to people under the age of 21. County Executive Robert Astorino said the campaign will be comprehensive and include signs at places that sell alcohol, on buses and transit shelters.
"Far to often, we open up the newspaper or watch the news and see a young child pronounced dead because of drunk driving and this is what we are trying to prevent," Astorino said.
Although businesses are on the frontlines of the campaign, Astorino said they shouldn't shoulder the burden alone.
"We might never reach a point where we are going to get rid of it," Astorino said. "I don't think that's ever, ever going to happen. Let's be honest about that. But we must come together as a united front to prevent as many fatalities and injuries as possible."
County District Attorney Janet DiFiore said her office is focused on cstopping underage drinking in the community. She said those efforts included educating children and enforcing the law against businesses or individuals that provide alcohol to people under the age.
"It is never my first response to look to punish children who engage in underage drinking," DiFiore said. "That said, it is often, has been and will continue to be, a first response to prosecute people who supply and sell alcohol to underage children."
Thomas Haydock, director of emergency services at White Plains Hospital, said the dangers from alcohol aren't limited to driving. He said injures from alcohol abuse can manifest themselves in a number of other ways.
Haydock, who's been practicing emergency medicine for more than 30 years, said the most common cause of death for people under the age of 44 in this country is some sort of traumatic event.
"You throw substances in there and it's like throwing accelerant on your grill when you're cooking on labor day weekend," Haydock said.
Frank Williams, director of the White Plains Youth Bureau, said the most effective way to get youth to understand the dangers of alcohol is to use a multi-faceted, team approach.
"It's about all of us working together — the hospitals, faith communities, the schools, the community — everyone, singing the same song and helping people understand that drinking can be deadly," Williams said.
County receives $625,000
In addition to the campaign, Astorino announced that the county Coalition for Drug and Alcohol Free Youth received a $625,000 grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The grant will be given out during a five-year period.
Vito Pinto, director of the county Office of Drug Prevention and STOP-DWI, said the grant will be used to fund training and educational programs throughout the county.