Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

Propensity for and Correlates of Alcohol Sales to Underage Youth

Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

Propensity for and Correlates of Alcohol Sales to Underage Youth

Article excerpt


The current study assessed the propensity for alcohol sales to youth in the late 1990s, following increased efforts to reduce youth access to alcohol. Male and female pseudo-underage buyers (i.e., age [greater than or equal to] 21 but judged to appear < 21) attempted to purchase alcohol without age identification at 741 alcohol establishments. One to five purchase attempts were made at each establishment, with 1,065 and 658 attempts at on-premise and off-premise establishments, respectively. The overall sales rate was 26%. Among establishments where more than one purchase attempt was made, 74% sold alcohol to pseudo-underage buyers at least once. The results of this study are encouraging, however, further work is needed to decrease the propensity of illegal alcohol sales to youth.


Alcohol use among adolescents and young adults is high and is related to a wide array of public health problems, including traffic crashes, sexual assaults, suicides, falls, and drownings (Borowsky, Ireland, & Resnick, 2001; Hingson, Heeren, Zakocs, Kopstein, & Wechsler, 2002; Howard, Qiu, & Boekeloo, 2003; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2004). To create sustained reductions in alcohol use and related problems among young people, changes in the environment that promotes alcohol use are needed, rather than only instructing individuals how to resist pressures to drink (Edwards et al., 1994). One part of the environment that contributes to alcohol use among young people is the availability of alcohol (Wagenaar & Perry, 1994). In a recent U.S. nationally representative survey, 83% of 10th graders and 67% of 8th graders reported that alcohol is very easy or fairly easy to get (Johnston, O'Malley, Bachman, & Schulenberg, 2004). Although most underage youth report that individuals 21-years-old and older are the most common sources of alcohol, 18- to 20-year-olds indicate that licensed alcohol establishments are the second most frequently used sources of alcohol (Jones-Webb et al., 1997; Wagenaar et al., 1996).

During the early to mid-1990s, eight studies confirmed that young people could easily purchase alcohol from on-premise (e.g., bars, restaurants) and off-premise (e.g., liquor stores, convenience stores, grocery stores) establishments (Forster, Murray, Wolfson, & Wagenaar, 1995; Forster et al., 1994; Lewis et al., 1996; O'Leary, Gorman, & Speer, 1994; Preusser & Williams, 1992; Preusser, Williams, & Weinstein, 1994; Schofield, Weeks, & Sanson-Fisher, 1994; Vaucher, Rehm, Benvenuti, & Muller, 1995). Half of the studies assessed the likelihood of illegal alcohol sales to underage youth by conducting purchase attempts with pseudo-underage buyers (persons 21-years-old or older judged to appear 18- or 19-years-old) and half conducted purchase attempts with actual underage buyers. Most studies sampled a small number of outlets in one or two jurisdictions; however, Forster et al. (1994; 1995) conducted purchase attempts in over 20 communities. Overall purchase rates across all the studies ranged from 45% to 88%.

In addition to assessing purchase rates, Forster et al. (1994; 1995) along with Wolfson et al. (1996a; 1996b) assessed whether specific server, establishment or buyer characteristics were associated with the likelihood of an illegal alcohol sale to pseudo-underage buyers. Servers who appeared younger than age 31 were more likely than older severs to sell alcohol to pseudo-underage buyers in on-premise outlets (Forster et al., 1995; Wolfson et al., 1996a). In off-premise establishments, male clerks were more likely than female clerks to sell alcohol to pseudo-underage buyers (Forster et al., 1995); however, female servers were more likely to sell to pseudo-underage buyers in on-premise establishments (Wolfson et al., 1996a). On-premise establishments with signs posted warning against serving minors were more likely to sell to the buyers than on-premise establishments without such signage; off-premise establishments affiliated with a chain of stores were more likely to sell than off-premise establishments without such affiliation (Wolfson et al. …

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