Teens label energy drink lookalikes

‘Alcopops’ can fuel underage drinking

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A group of Wilson youths headed out to two local convenience stores Saturday armed with red warning labels in their hands.

Those red stickers were placed on top of a specific type of alcoholic beverages called alcopops, which resemble sodas, juice and energy drinks.

The Wilson County Substance Prevention Coalition teamed up with the Wilson Police Department’s Youth Explorers for “Operation Sticker Shock” to bring awareness to not only the dangers of underage drinking but the growing trend of alcopops.

Saturday’s effort was also a collaboration between the convenience stores including the Grocery Door and K&D Petro on Nash Street.

“It is pretty important because not a lot of people know that underage drinking here specifically in Wilson is a problem,” said 20-year-old Paul Arias, who is a part of the Wilson Police Department Youth Explorer program.“It’s not something a lot of people talk about.”

The red warning labels also alert store clerks. Sometimes cashiers — and parents — don’t know the difference between energy drinks and alcopops because of how they are packaged.

Officials hope Saturday’s initiative, led by youth, will make a difference.

“It’s informational,” Arias said about the red warning labels. “It’s a good way to just let people know this is for adults only.”

The Wilson Police Department’s Youth Explorer program is for those ages 14 to 20. The program aims to give youth a more in-depth look into all aspects of the police department as well as get them involved in community-wide initiatives.

Jeff Hill, the Wilson County Substance Prevention Coalition’s executive director, said it’s vital to get youth engaged in this type of community initiative, which also aims to prevent underage drinking.

“Their voices are the most important part of this,” Hill said.

When underage drinking prevention begins at an early age, he said, children and teens will be better off in the long run.

“Also having them hands-on gives them some ownership over something like this, and when you have a sense of ownership, you tend to carry it a little further forward as you move out from the day of,” Hill said.

Wilson Police Chief Thomas Hopkins agreed.

“I think the awareness level for our younger kids is extremely important,” Hopkins said.

Youth Explorers have teamed up with the Substance Prevention Coalition in the past on the same type of project.

“And we have a lot of new Explorers now that have an opportunity to participate as well,” he said. “We appreciate the coalition asking us to partner with them to do this type of outreach. And what we’re hoping to is that a lot of their peers get an opportunity to see them working with the Substance Prevention Coalition.”

Hill also said he was grateful to the store owners who allowed the groups to label their products to bring awareness to the issue.