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A media and education campaign to prevent underage drinking is going into its fifth year in a state-funded program that tops $7 million in spending, and supporters say it is showing results.

On Tuesday at the Capitol, state officials kicked off the newest round of efforts for the program, aimed at raising awareness.

With $1.4 million in funding, which has escaped state budget cuts, this year's initiative is called "Prepare your kids to say no to underage drinking." The campaign will emphasize research showing that alcohol can seriously impair youngsters' brain development, impacting learning, memory and impulse control — sometimes permanently.

Gov. Gary Herbert credited the campaign for a drop in underage drinking, gauged by statewide surveys of Utah's schoolchildren in 2007 and 2009. During those two years, 5,500 fewer Utah teens reported using alcohol in the past 30 days, and there were 2,600 fewer underage binge drinkers.

"That's incredible," said Herbert. "Statistics like these represent a tremendous value to Utah's families and communities — not to mention brighter futures for thousands of Utah children."

Art Brown, president of Mother's Against Drunk Driving Utah, said surveys by Dan Jones & Associates show that the campaign has educated 125,000 parents on the dangers of underage drinking.

"Kids report that of all the reasons not to drink while underage, parents who clearly disapprove of alcohol is by far the most persuasive," he said. "Parenting trumps peer pressure."

First lady Jeanette Herbert said peer pressure also is a major challenge for youth, especially during the first several months of school when they are creating friendships and developing new behaviors. This is a crucial time for parents to stay involved and ensure positive friendships are developed and clear no-alcohol rules are set, she said.

Key lawmakers believe the program is so important that, when the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) cut the campaign's budget by $500,000 in 2009, legislators fully restored funding the following year. They also ensured that the DABC, lead agency for the program, cannot tinker with its funding.

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, also called for a full-blown audit of the DABC to determine its efficiency, which is ongoing.

At the campaign kickoff Tuesday, Waddoups said the single-most important thing parents can do for their children is to prevent them from drinking. Yet school surveys shows that 30 percent of Utah teens who drank said they got the alcohol at home, and with permission from their parents.

Media, education campaign • aimed at preventing underage drinking

Funding • comes from the state

$5.8 million • spent in past four years

$1.4 million • this fiscal year's budget, not included in statewide budget cuts —

Youth and booze

40 percent of kids who begin drinking before age 15 will become alcohol dependant

67 percent of youngsters who start drinking before age 15 will try an illicit drug

Alcohol kills more young people than all illegal drugs combined