NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–For parents of high school and college students, spring break is often a time to reward their children with a carefree trip to a sun-drenched beach. But for the thousands of students planning to descend on beach towns and international resorts during spring break, the opportunity for fun in the sun could be more than they or their parents bargained for.
A review of a few travel websites promoting week-long spring break packages for students reveals a shrewd marketing strategy aimed at luring students to Mexican beach attractions with “50 hours of free drinking” where the legal age is 18 and enforcement is lax.
For example, one “spring break”-oriented website pitches Cancun, Mexico, as the ultimate playground for under-age American students where “your yearly intake of alcoholic consumption could happen in one small week….” Another package featured on the website promotes Amsterdam as a “pot-smokers paradise” due to liberal drug laws.
The website further describes the Cancun package by stating: “For those of you worried about what your parents might say, tell them it’s an ‘educational trip.’ You are working to graduate college with a minor in heavy drinking. And best of all Mom, I don’t have to worry about drinking the water and getting sick, because I will only be drinking beer. For all of the novice drinkers out there, remember this fail-proof saying to avoid near catastrophe while in Cancun: ‘Beer before liquor makes you sicker, liquor before beer you’re in the clear.'”
Tour organizers for international destinations such as Cancun, Mazatlan, Acapulco, Jamaica and the Bahamas are quick to disclaim any responsibility for the actions of those who purchase their spring break packages which usually include airfare, lodging, meals and unlimited alcohol in nightclubs. Students who sign up for the trips must sign liability wavers that absolve tour companies from any fault for practically anything that could go wrong.
Nevertheless, many of these companies are aggressively marketing a no-holds-barred, seven-day party with the promise of free-flowing alcohol. “Nothing [in Cancun] happens in moderation, so be prepared to test your limits,” an ad on another student-oriented travel website declares.
“We’re not going to stick our heads in the sand and talk around the subject of partying,” a disclaimer on one site states. “A lot of students — not all, but a lot — view spring break as a big stress-relief party. And yes, that may entail some things Mom and Dad or Ma and Pa U.S. Culture might not look upon fondly.”
And neither should parents be caught unaware while liquor and beer companies unleash this seductive assault on their teens and young adults, says Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and host of the weekday “For Faith & Family” radio broadcasts heard by more than 1.5 million listeners each week.
“While our nation’s ongoing struggle with substance abuse can be traced to many causes, the family and the church remain the two institutions best suited to confront the issues and provide the help hurting individuals need,” Land said. “A strong family supported by a strong church is the best defense against substance abuse. When the family and the church are healthy and functioning as God intends, they provide a haven where those in need can find the emotional and physical support, encouragement, stability and connection to grow in God’s strength and grace.”
Citing a survey conducted last year by the American Medical Association which showed that 73 percent of parents of college and high school-aged students were unaware of the all-you-can-drink trips, Land said parents must not abdicate their responsibility to do all they can to protect their families from the aggressive tactics employed by the alcohol and tourism industry.
To that end, the ERLC has created a ministry resource called the “Culture Response Kit” to help churches and families address an array of issues dealing with substance abuse, including alcohol, tobacco and drugs. This issue-specific kit includes relevant Bible study helps, cutting-edge research and statistical information, as well as the leading resource material on a particular moral, ethical or cultural issue.
“The Culture Response Kit is packed with valuable tools to help you and your family engage the most critical moral issues facing our culture today from a truly biblical perspective,” Land said.
Land said the latest statistics on binge drinking, which is defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting, indicate a problem of near epidemic proportions — a problem he contends is being perpetuated by the “all you can drink” spring break parties held each year in March and April.
According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, binge drinking episodes among 18- to 20-year-olds increased by 56 percent, an average of 15 times per year in 2001. Adults 21 to 25 years old averaged 18 drinking binges in 2001. Binge drinking among all adults increased to 1.5 billion episodes during 2001, an average of seven times per person. The complete findings from the survey are published in the January 2003 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Traditionally, spring break hot spots in the United States have been Miami Beach, Panama City, Fla., Daytona Beach, and South Padre Island, Texas. While these sites remain popular, tour promoters credit Cancun’s rise as a spring break venue to its affordability and permissiveness of alcohol and drug use. For example, drugs such as marijuana and ecstasy are readily available and cost less in Cancun than they do in the United States.
Analysts estimate that 170,000 college students and high school seniors visited Cancun last year during the eight weeks before Easter.
David Jernigan, research director of the center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., told USA Today that spring break represents a huge marketing opportunity for distilleries and beer companies.
The companies “are using Mexico to get around the (U.S.) legal drinking age,” Jernigan said. “It’s unethical.”
Land said statistics suggest further that the annual spring break bashes are having a profound impact on the culture at large through nationally televised broadcasts of spring break parties on cable networks such as MTV.
For example, Land said, a study released by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics revealed that in 2001 binge drinking was reported by 30 percent of 12th-graders, 25 percent of 10th-graders and 13 percent of eighth-graders.
“Just as substance abuse causes physical damage, the media’s sensationalized portrayal of such infamous events is equally as damaging,” Land said.
Land warned parents and students alike considering spring break locales to be acutely aware that behind the luxurious beaches, lush jungles, ancient ruins and beautiful hotels in resort areas such as Cancun awaits a world of pain and heartache if alcohol is included in the package.
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging; and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise,” Land said, quoting Proverbs 20:1.
For more information about the ERLC’s Culture Response Kit, go online at www.faithandfamily.com  or call 1-800-475-9127.