NEWBERRY — Westview Behavioral Health Services introduced people to an educational program for retailers in the county that helps reduce underage access to tobacco and alcohol.
The informational session on Wednesday was a part of the Chamber of Commerce’s lunch and learn series which happens on a monthly basis.
Hugh Gray, Westview’s executive director and director of prevention services, along with Tom Perry, the coordinator of the Coalition on Underage Drinking which is a grant provided through Westview, spoke about what they do along with the Palmetto Retailers Education Program (PREP).
Starting with the coalition, Perry said that the coalition which began in 2010 with a federal grant has gotten a lot of great reviews.
Perry said that assessments and school data are a big part of the job.
Through the schools, surveys were given and ideas were gathered from freshmen through eleventh graders, Perry said.
“This is what our kids are telling us, so we try to listen intently to them,” said Perry.
In addition in working with the school district, Perry said, “We work closely with law enforcement.”
This includes, party patrols, compliance checks, social hosting and merchant education.
“If you are interested, there are a lot of good things that happen from it,” said Perry.
Gray added that “the coalition is a grassroots organization that identifies the needs of the community.”
Westview does provide many services that now branch out beyond drug and alcohol treatment, but he opted to talk about the PREP educational training.
Gray started by stating facts about under age consumption such as, “The legal age in South Carolina for purchasing tobacco products is 18 and the legal age in South Carolina for purchasing alcohol products is 21.”
Gray also said that the Food and Drug Administration “requires you to ask for identification from customers who look under 27 years.”
However, it’s good practice to ask for identification from people under 35.
“The monetary penalties for selling tobacco to an underage person “can run into hundreds of dollars putting a financial strain on businesses,” said Gray.
PREP’s purpose is “to mostly save lives,” said Gray, who said that alcohol is the most frequently used and abused drub by teens.
Gray referenced when he came to Newberry about 20 years ago, “15 years of age was the first drink for (South Carolina) teens.”
“The age continues to decline as it’s now 13 years,” said Gray.
There are benefits to the program for retailers, Gray points out.
There is a possible rate reduction for alcohol liability insurance, reasons to ask for lowered administrative fines, keeping a good worker because of a simple mistake and a show of good faith to law enforcement and the revenue department, Gray summed up.
“Businesses can be shut down for too many violations,” Perry said.
If retailers are interested in providing classes to their employers, they may contact Gray or Wade Bishop at 276-5690. If people are interested in the coalition, they may contact Perry at the same number. PREP also has website for people to visit at www.prepmerchanted.com.
Westview does have their next class scheduled for Dec. 10 at 1 p.m.