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Preventing Alcohol Availability to Underage Youth
Environmental and Policy Change: Alcohol

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> Regulatory Strategies for Preventing Youth Access to Alcohol: Best Practices

> Case Histories in Alcohol Policy

> Prevention Enhancement Protocols Systems (PEPS): Practitioners' Guide

Preventing the availability of alcohol to underage youth involves several strategies.  At the national level, the United State's minimum drinking age of 21 is intended to reduce the availability of alcohol to young people.  While some states have discussed lowering the current drinking age, the Federal government has found ways to discourage states from doing so.  Following are a few good reasons to keep the national drinking age at 21: 

       In Michigan, alcohol consumption among seniors in high school was reduced when the state raised the drinking age from 18 to 21.

       Automobile crashes were reduced by 19% when Michigan raised the drinking age from 18 to 21.

       Alcohol consumption is reduced in the age groups younger than 21 years, which results in reduced DUI (driving under intoxication), less automobile fatalities and less incidences overall of alcohol-related problems.

Enforcement of alcohol beverage purchase laws is another important strategy used to prevent youth access to alcohol.  There are two primary methods by which underage drinkers obtain alcohol commercially:

       Direct purchase of alcohol from on-sale sites (bars and restaurants) and off-sale sites (liquor stores, convenience stores, supermarkets, etc.), and

       "Shoulder tapping" by underage drinkers. Shoulder tapping is a process whereby a young person asks an adult to purchase alcohol for him or her, usually for a small fee to the buyer. Shoulder taps often occur with adults loitering outside off-sale alcohol outlets.

Strategies that have been found effective at stopping commercial availability of alcohol to youth include:

       Restricting the age of alcohol servers and sellers;

       Restricting minors' access to bars and nightclubs;

       Installing drivers license scanners in off-sale settings;

       Mandating responsible beverage service programs;

       Engaging in regular compliance checks (stings or decoys) of alcohol merchants;

       Imposing appropriate penalties for commercial violations; and

       Restricting the location of alcohol outlets.

The majority of these approaches require forging relationships with local and state law enforcement, encouraging them to undertake decoy operations to stop direct sale and shoulder tap access.  Many communities have found that with police resources already stretched to the limit, the importance of youth alcohol consumption and the resulting problems must be raised as a community issue. Public hearings, town hall meetings and media advocacy are all strategies communities have used successfully to place this issue higher on the community priority list.

A few of the above strategies, such as mandating responsible beverage service and  restricting the location of alcohol outlets require the development of new local or state alcohol policies.  For example, communities have found that mandating responsible beverage service (RBS) programs has dramatically increased the number of merchants taking the RBS training, which has resulted in reductions of sales to minors. However, research shows that RBS training is most effective when a strong program of compliance checks are in place. Restricting the location of alcohol outlets often requires the use of land use ordinances such as conditional use permits See the alcohol outlet density strategy.


Research demonstrates that numerous strategies, minimum drinking age, compliance checks and others can reduce access to alcohol by youth.

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> Policing underage alcohol sales

> Enforcement of the legal minimum drinking age in the United States

> Commercial availability of alcohol to young people: Results of alcohol purchase attempts

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Featured Strategies
> Responsible Beverage Service

> Raising Alcohol Taxes

> Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol

> Changing the Hours and Days of Sale of Alcohol

> Alcohol Outlet Density


copyright 2008 Free To Grow
Free To Grow is a national program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with direction and technical assistance provided by the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University.