The study assessed leaders' perceptions of adolescent alcohol use as a public health issue in 28 small communities in northern Minnesota, as part of formative evaluation for a community-based intervention to reduce adolescent alcohol access and consumption. One hundred and eighteen leaders from five key community sectors were interviewed about their perceptions of social, health and alcohol-related problems in their communities. Analyses indicated that school representatives and police chiefs perceived adolescent alcohol use and related problems to be serious; newspaper editors mentioned other social problems more often; and mayors and business representatives did not perceive adolescent alcohol problems to be as serious. In relation to efforts to affect local policy, the study suggested government and business sectors in these communities may need to be educated about the problem to build its importance on the community agenda of health issues. Thus community leaders in some sectors may comprise a key target audience for intervention.