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Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility
Increasing enforcement against retailers who sell to minors can have a substantial effect on sales of alcohol to young people. Even moderate increases in enforcement can reduce sales of alcohol to minors by as much as 35 percent to 40 percent, especially when combined with media and other community activities (Grube, 1997; Wagenaar et al., 2000a). Effective compliance checks are conducted on an on-going basis, with regular enforcement actions (e.g., two or more times per year) against all outlets, rather than sporadic actions against “problem” outlets (Willingham, n.d.).
Further support for the importance of reducing retail access to alcohol can be obtained from the literature on tobacco control and youth smoking. Most notably, recent research suggests that increasing compliance with age identification for the purchase of tobacco not only reduced tobacco sales to minors and youth smoking, but also reduced underage drinking (Biglan et al., 2000). In a variation of compliance checks, the primary intervention in this research comprised repeated visits to tobacco outlets in which underage youth attempted to purchase tobacco. These young people gave a reminder of the law to clerks who agreed to sell. Clerks who refused to sell received a gift certificate worth $5 to $10, and local media publicized their refusal. This intervention was implemented within the context of a community-wide proclamation against selling to youth, visits to each merchant with information about the proclamation and the law, community-wide publicity about outlet refusals, and feedback to outlets about their rate of sales to young people. Across all communities, the average percent of outlets willing to sell decreased from 57 percent to 22 percent, a 61 percent relative decline. Although the community-based interventions focused on limiting youth access to tobacco products, a 60 percent relative reduction in weekly alcohol use among ninth graders also was achieved (Biglan et al., 2000). Whereas prevalence of weekly alcohol use increased from about 10 percent to 18 percent in the control communities, it remained virtually unchanged in the intervention communities, increasing from about 13 percent to 14 percent. The significant effect on ninth grade alcohol consumption may have been due to the intervention sensitizing clerks not to sell either tobacco or alcohol to minors.
Recommendation 9-2: States should strengthen their compliance check programs in retail outlets, using media campaigns and license revocation to increase deterrence.
Communities and states should undertake regular and comprehensive compliance check programs, including notification of retailers concerning the program and follow-up communication to them about the outcome (sale/no sale) for their outlet.