Community must maintain focus on curbing underage drinking.

A check of local businesses offering alcohol for sale ended on a sour note.

The sting operation conducted by Garden City police in cooperation with the Kansas Division of Alcohol Beverage Control saw people at 18 local restaurants, stores and other places cited for allegedly furnishing alcohol to minors.

The number of citations surprised even law enforcement officials, and provided a sobering look at how easy it could be for local minors to buy booze.

Underage drinking has been a problem for some time in Finney County. So, it was encouraging a few years back when the county landed a nearly $1 million federal grant designed to see law enforcement, educators, parents, churches, substance abuse prevention agencies and others work together on the problem.

The Finney County Community Health Coalition set out on a plan to bolster existing efforts and create new ways to teach life skills and discourage youngsters from using alcohol.

Research shows youngsters who consume alcohol before the age of 15 are far more likely to have alcohol-related problems throughout life. Immediate issues could range from poor performance in school to more serious outcomes in traffic crashes, teen pregnancies, sexually-transmitted diseases, crime and suicides.

One local strategy to discourage underage consumption involved enlisting Garden City High School students to help educate elementary school-age children. Putting the power of peer groups and positive role models to use in preventing dangerous behavior made sense, and allowed teens to develop leadership skills as they mentored youngsters.

Recent feedback suggested such ventures have made a difference.

Annual Kansas Communities That Care surveys showed the number of local students who reported alcohol use in the previous 30 days declining in the past few years. The same positive trend materialized in regard to students who said they had engaged in binge drinking.

While it's good to see progress, the recent check of places that sell alcohol proved there's always more to do in educating people of all ages.

And, why it's necessary to be vigilant in devoting resources to a problem that, if overlooked, only promises to exact a more costly toll down the line.