Guam Town Hall Meetings—Changing Underage Drinking Laws and Social Norms
When all U.S. states had raised their minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) to 21 by 1988, the island nation of Guam still maintained an MLDA of 18. Support for a higher age began to grow, as the public became more aware of high-risk drinking by Guam youth and its often deadly consequences. The death in 2006 of Ramon Oberiano, who was killed by a 19-year-old drunk driver, led to prolonged debates by the Guam Legislature, but failed to produce a change. But, in May 2010, Senators Benjamin Cruz, Anthony Ada, and Thomas Ada of the 30th Guam Legislature introduced the Ramon Someros Oberiano Act, which proposed to control underage and binge drinking by raising the MLDA to 21. The measure passed the legislature unanimously.
Changing the legislature’s collective mind and enacting the historic new law on Guam were the result of a synergistic combination of forces. First, there were efforts within the legislature and by Guam citizens to persuade individual legislators to recognize the negative effects of youthful drinking on Guam and to promote public support for increasing the legal drinking age. Second, early in 2010, the Guam Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse launched the One Nation, Alcohol-Free social marketing campaign that was aimed at reducing the acceptability of alcohol abuse as a cultural norm on Guam and among its Pacific Island neighbors. Last, but by no means least, community organizers planned a series of underage drinking Town Hall Meetings that reached stakeholders and youth themselves.
One Town Hall Meeting, held on April 30, 2010, was sponsored by Youth for Youth LIVE! Guam (YFYLG)—the island’s popular youth-driven program for young people ages 11 to 17. A highlight of the program was the showing of the territory’s recently-completed, SAMHSA-supported underage drinking prevention video, Fan Mak Måta (Wake Up!): Underage Drinking is a MAJOR Minor Problem. The Town Hall Meeting drew 275 middle school and high school students, and it prompted many Guam teens to write letters, make public statements, and submit testimonies calling for the legislature to pass the Ramon Someros Oberiano Act. Lawmakers who had not attended YFYLG Town Hall Meeting were quick to take note when many soon-to-be-voting-age young people showed up for their hearings, complete with placards and signs urging the act’s passage.
On July 8, 2010, only a little more than 2 months after the YFYLG Town Hall Meeting, Acting Governor Michael Cruz, M.D., signed into law the Ramon Someros Oberiano Act (Public Law [PL] 30-156). The law immediately affected Guam citizens and any of the 6,800 members of the U.S. military stationed there who were under age 21. (The MLDA of 21 had been in effect on the U.S. naval base.) At the same time, Acting Governor Cruz signed into law two related pieces of new legislation designed to further reduce underage and excessive drinking on Guam. PL 30-154 reduces access to alcohol by reducing the hours of sale,.and PL-30-155 provides harsher penalties for the violation of that law.
YFYLG recognizes that underage drinking cannot be prevented by a single strategy. In 2012, YFYLG hosted a followup underage drinking Town Hall Meeting as part of the group’s 22nd annual Youth for Youth Conference. A highlight of the event was a talk-show-format discussion called Youth Talk Today! led by local radio personality Kyle Mandapat, which yielded positive results in a postpresentation survey. The success of Youth Talk Today! has led to its continued airing as a youth-led, youth-oriented talk show. This 2-hour talk show raises discussion about social issues that concern Guam’s youth, such as substance abuse and suicide prevention, anger and stress management, bullying, and peer pressure. Youth Talk Today! aired weekly for 8 weeks after the Town Hall Meeting on Guam radio’s Power98, with a live telecast on Fox6.
The lesson from Guam’s experience is that when efforts to educate decisionmakers take place against the backdrop of an effective and culturally targeted social marketing campaign, the stage can be set for enlightened new policies to curb underage drinking. Well-planned and executed Town Hall Meetings channeling youthful energy and commitment to a healthier environment can be the catalyst for legislative action. Thanks to the increased public awareness about Guam’s underage drinking problems and growing support for effective prevention measures generated by Town Hall Meetings, youth-driven
activities, and media campaigns in Guam, progress is being made. In 2011, data from Guam’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed the rate of binge drinking among Guam teens is at 13.6 percent, the lowest since 1995.
Youth for Youth LIVE! Guam (YFYLG) members and community partners gathered at the Guam Legislature Session Hall to show their support for passage of the Ramon Someros Oberiano Act into public law.
YFYLG members and hosts, Baron Mafnas and Marlijo Serineo, discuss youth issues on Youth Talk Today! with cohost Kyle Mandapat.