Underage Drinking

Implementation of Laws Against Selling liquor to Minors

Enforcement of laws against selling alcohol to minors should be the corner-stone of any underage drinking prevention effort. Even though young people obtain alcohol from a variety of sources, no other reductions in access can be fully effective if underage purchases are easy. Not only does enforcement reduce sales to minors, but it also reduces underage drinking and heavy drinking. In general, the most effective and efficient strategies are aimed at retailers who are licensed and presumably responsible adults who should be obeying the law. To be maximally effective, communities should place primary emphasis on the vigorous enforcement of the laws prohibiting sales to minors. Implementing effective enforcement policies will be very difficult if law enforcement officers and community leaders believe that there is little community support for such activities (Wagenaar and Wolfson, 1994, 1995). The strategic use of media can help overcome such resistance and elicit public support for limiting access (Holder and

Treno, 1997).

Enforcement aimed at retailers includes the following key elements:

  • Vigorous use of compliance checks
  • Application of appropriate sanctions for violating merchants
  • Education of merchants regarding techniques and responsibilities
  • Development of community support for enforcement

The use of “source investigations” in which enforcement agencies question minors in possession of alcohol or minors involved Dram shop (civil) liability for sales to minors.

In alcohol-related traffic violations where they obtained the alcohol

  • Some enforcement strategies aimed at youth have shown some promise of effectiveness. These are
  • Special police “party patrols” to contain underage parties and ticket both minors and adults who provide alcohol to them;
  • Penalties applied to the use of false identification; and
  • “Cops in Shops” and similar programs that allow police to ticket
  • Minors attempting to purchase alcohol.


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