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Ads play a part in teenage drinking

SOAPBOX • We need to tell alcohol industry to lay off teen market

I'd like to give parents out there a little homework assignment: Count all the alcohol ads you see in a week. We are all exposed to more ads for beer and liquor than we realize; you might be surprised to know that your kids see even more than you do.

I am 16 years old and can probably name more brands of alcohol than you. While you might think that you know what influences your children, you may not notice the alcohol ads because they aren't reaching you. These ads are part of the reason alcohol is involved in the biggest percentage of teen deaths: unintentional injuries (including car accidents and drownings), homicides and suicides.

A new study from the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth found that kids ages 12 to 20 see 45 percent more beer ads and 27 percent more liquor ads than people older than 21. These ads appear in magazines that are seen by millions of teens, including Vibe, Spin, Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone.

Underage drinking is a serious problem, and we can't afford to sit back and watch it consume millions of teenagers each year. According to Oregon's Office of Mental Health and Addiction Services, one in four Oregon eighth-graders reported having a drink in the last month. Nationally, about one in four teens ages 15 to 17 report that their alcohol and drug use has led them to more sexual activity than they had planned. Because of this, they now worry about STDs or pregnancy because of something they did while drinking or using drugs.

The lifestyles and values exemplified in alcohol ads are a far cry from the reality of teen drinking. I've seen the horrible effects of alcohol addiction, but the majority of teens my age have not. I don't want to see my friends at risk for suicide or pregnancy, ruining their chance to graduate or go to college.

It will take teens, parents, teachers and efforts from entire communities to teach the alcohol industry to keep its hands off America's youth. The industry is making our nights more interesting and more dangerous. Don't worry if you don't get the reference Ñ just have your kids explain it to you. They've seen the ads.

Ian Mansfield is a junior at Century High School in Hillsboro. He volunteers for the Oregon Partnership's YouthLine, a free and confidential alcohol and drug help line for youth at 1-877-553-8336 (1-877-553-TEEN).