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IDs Not Required for Teenagers to Buy Alcohol

Auckland Regional Alcohol Project

Proof of age not required for Teenagers to buy alcohol.

Research released today by the Auckland Regional Alcohol Project shows a clear increase in the number of liquor outlets across the Auckland region selling alcohol to young people without seeking ID.

The study, conducted by The Centre for Social and Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation (SHORE) at Massey University, is now in its third year and involved ‘pseudo patrons’ aged 18 who visited approximately 250 bottle stores, supermarkets and grocery stores around the Auckland region attempting to purchase alcohol without ID. The results show that over half, and in some areas over two thirds, of pseudo patrons were able to purchase alcohol without being asked for ID.

“With the lowering of the minimum purchase age from 20 to18 in 1999, parliament clearly expected that a ‘HARD 18’ culture would be put in place. We were told that this would ensure that no one under age would be able to purchase alcohol. This research clearly demonstrates that this has not happened,” says Professor Sally Casswell, Director of SHORE.

Regional Alcohol Project spokesperson, Rebecca Williams says “We are not protecting our young people through the current provisions. Given the inconsistent performance of licensed premises, the obvious and urgent solution would be to return the purchase age to 20. Internationally, this strategy has proven to successfully reduce alcohol-related harm for young people.”

While the research demonstrates an increase in the total number of sales without age identification across the Auckland region, the ID practices of supermarket chains continue to improve. Twenty one percent of attempted purchases made from supermarket chains were successful, the best result since the study began. This compares with 61% in bottle stores and 71% in grocery outlets “If supermarkets can do it so can everyone else” says Williams.

This year’s poor results reverse the previous trend identified in 2003. Although there has been an improvement by supermarket chains, Williams highlights the need for increased measures to reduce alcohol-related harm for young people. “This study looks only at off-licence sales. The key concern is that the alcohol purchased by young people from off-licenses is more likely to be taken to unsupervised drinking environments where they will be at increased risk of harm.”

Police and regulatory agencies continue to be under-resourced to monitor and enforce sales to minors. “Another simple and effective strategy for government would be to make ID checking a legal requirement” says Williams.

Purchase of Alcohol from Off- Licences by Under-age Young People

(Prepared by Alcohol Healthwatch, updated 28-7-04)

Underage purchase is an important source of alcohol for young people. In a national survey conducted in 2000, 37% of 16 to 17 year olds had purchased takeaway alcohol in the previous 12 months (unpublished data from Habgood et al. 2001). It is likely that underage purchasers of alcohol also on-supply to even younger teens.

Results from the Pseudo-patron Study ‘04 conducted in the Auckland region suggest that under age young people are increasingly likely to be able to purchase alcohol with relative ease from off-licensed premises. Over the region, more than half (56%) of all attempts by 18 year olds to purchase alcohol without ID was successful. Using 18 year olds provides an indication of whether premises are routinely asking for ID before serving young looking people. The results show that many are not.

Rigorous enforcement of the minimum purchase age is essential in reducing underage drinking and intoxication. In recognition of the role alcohol has in crime and health costs, it is imperative that enough resources are directed towards effective enforcement/monitoring of premises and this activity is given sufficient priority. Controlled Purchase Operations carried out by Police, for example, are an important tool in achieving and monitoring compliance with the law, but they require considerable dedicated time and resources.

Serious and well-publicised penalties for breaches of the Sale of Liquor Act and licence conditions: Increased expectation, by both premises and other suppliers including young people, of being caught is important in ensuring compliance. Well publicised prosecutions have an important deterrent effect.

Mandatory ID checks: Every premise must have its own policy to verify age in order to be able to avoid selling to underage patrons. However, this needs to be supported in law. This would ensure that licensees would then have to address the issue of underage sales more rigorously, and servers, especially those who are young themselves, would be more empowered to ask for identification.

Outlet density: The large and increasing number of liquor outlets is also part of the problem. If a minor gets refused a sale in one bottle store they can simply try again down the road and are likely to be successful. Some areas are experiencing a proliferation of premises and the sheer number and competition between them creates a monitoring and enforcement issue.

Although grocery stores made the most sales without ID checks (71%) in the Pseudo-patron Study, other statistics show that bottle stores are a more common source of alcohol for young people. Designating stand alone bottle stores as supervised areas would be an extra barrier to off-licence sales to minors.

Supermarkets, where 21% of visits resulted in sales, have made a real effort in adopting and promoting policies to check ID of all under 25 year olds. While they set a better example, this is still unacceptable. Confining alcohol sales to a couple of aisles where checkout operators are trained in ID practices and at least 18 years themselves would further help to minimise underage sales from supermarkets.

Staff training: Ensuring all staff, especially those employed in large bottle stores and supermarkets, receive specific training in avoiding under-age sales is important. Training could cover: assertively requesting ID, dealing with abusive customers, checking for correct date, and identification of false IDs. A requirement to provide such training could be specified in the criteria for assessing applications for an off-licence.

Councils have an important role to play in the youth drinking issue. As well as using their statutory role in liquor licensing to the best advantage they can also develop broad-based strategies that identify how they will respond to issues such as outlet density and other alcohol-related community concerns. They can set examples such as the banning of alcohol advertising on council property and liquor industry sponsorship of events they are involved in, particularly those involving youth.

Looking more broadly still, supporting wider strategies such as returning the purchase age to 20 years and challenging the marketing of alcohol to young people are other influences on the purchase of alcohol by minors.

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