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Survey: Most parents see risk in underage use of alcohol, tobacco, other drugs

WILLMAR — Nearly nine out of 10 parents who participated in a survey by the Kandiyohi County Drug-Free Communities Coalition believe it’s risky for underage youths to consume alcohol, use tobacco, use marijuana or misuse prescription drugs.

The survey also showed strong support for public policy measures such as tobacco-free parks, beaches and multi-unit housing.

The findings will help set the agenda for the Drug-Free Communities Coalition as it develops its priorities for the coming year, said Laura Daak, coordinator of the coalition.

Just under 750 Kandiyohi County adults responded to the survey, which was carried out this past year to gauge parental attitudes and beliefs about underage use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

In order to get a cross-section of respondents, the survey was offered in several settings: health fairs, school meetings, the Kandiyohi County Fair. It was available online as well, and could be filled out in English, Spanish or Somali. Most of the parents who completed the survey lived in the Willmar, New London-Spicer or Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City school districts and had school-age children.

The survey results contained few major surprises, Daak said.

Most parents felt underage drinking, tobacco use, marijuana use and prescription drug misuse were either moderately or greatly risky, she said.

Nine out of 10 respondents said it was unacceptable for underage youths to drink at parties. Nine out of 10 also believed it was unacceptable for parents to offer alcohol to underage youths who were not their children.

These findings underscore that, contrary to what popular opinion might suggest, most parents disapprove of party-related drinking by teens and believe adults shouldn’t supply alcohol to underage kids, Daak said. “It’s the perception vs. the reality.”

A small percentage of parents, however, admitted to giving alcohol to underage drinkers. Four percent said they had provided alcohol to their own children and 3 percent said they had done so to underage children who weren’t theirs.

One of the more unexpected survey findings, said Daak, was the number of parents who were unaware of social host ordinances. These set penalties for adults who allow alcohol to be served at gatherings where minors are present. Willmar, New London, Spicer and Raymond all have social host ordinances, as does Kandiyohi County.

Slightly more than half of the survey respondents didn’t know whether their community had a social host ordinance, Daak said. “There’s definitely needed education on what it is and what cities have it.”

The survey also uncovered strong support for tobacco-free environments. Eight out of 10 respondents supported this for county beaches, county and city parks and the Kandiyohi County Fair. Their support was strongest of all for tobacco-free multi-unit housing, a finding that came as a surprise to the coalition, Daak said.

“I was surprised that was one of the highest,” she said.

It suggests that working with local landlords could be among the coalition’s priorities for 2014, she said. “That’s definitely giving us a push in that direction.”

Detailed survey results are posted online at

The Kandiyohi County Drug-Free Communities Coalition is heading into the fifth year of a federal grant through the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which funds community-based coalitions that work locally to prevent youth substance abuse. The coalition has been a catalyst for local initiatives ranging from a prescription drug drop-off box at the Kandiyohi County Law Enforcement Center to helping craft policies that limit tobacco use at the Kandiyohi County Fair and on county beaches.

It has been 15 years since the landmark master settlement with U.S. tobacco companies that helped change the landscape for tobacco prevention, especially among youths, Daak said.

Although there are still challenges, the survey results indicate that prevention efforts are taking hold, she said. “It’s showing progress.”

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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