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Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility
Enforcement agencies should issue citations for violations of underage sales laws, with substantial fines and temporary suspension of license for first offenses and increasingly stronger penalties thereafter, leading to permanent revocation of license after three offenses.
Communities and states should implement media campaigns in conjunction with compliance check programs detailing the program, its purpose, and outcomes.
States may need to consider the adequacy of funding for their alcohol control agencies including how efficiently resources are utilized, to enable the agencies to undertake the committee’s recommended enforcement efforts. Communities might also consider programs that reward retailers for compliance and remind them of the law, as a complement to law enforcement compliance checks (Biglan et al., 2000).
A model for enforcing compliance with underage alcohol sales laws at the national level can be found in the Synar Amendment, which applies to tobacco. The Synar Amendment, enacted in 1992, requires states to enact and enforce effective laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to children under 18 years of age. States failing to comply lose a portion of their block grant funds for substance abuse prevention.
Recommendation 9-3: The federal government should require states to achieve designated rates of retailer compliance with youth access prohibitions as a condition of receiving relevant block grant funding, similar to the Synar Amendment’s requirements for youth tobacco sales.
Specifically, under this requirement, all states, as a prerequisite for receiving funds under one or more block grants (e.g., substance abuse prevention and treatment, enforcing the underage drinking laws), would be expected to:
enforce effective laws prohibiting sales of alcohol to persons under 21 years of age in a manner that can reasonably be expected to reduce the availability of alcohol products to individuals under the age of 21;
conduct annual random, unannounced inspections of both on- and off-license outlets to ensure compliance with the law;
conduct these inspections in such a way as to provide a valid sample of outlets accessible to youth;
develop a strategy and a time frame for achieving an inspection failure rate of less than 20 percent of outlets; and
submit an annual report detailing (a) the state’s activities to enforce their law, (b) the overall success the state has achieved during the previous year in reducing alcohol availability to youth, (c) how inspections were