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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Underage Alcohol Sales—It Only Takes a Minute: A New Approach to Underage Alcohol Availability

Because minors generally report higher accessibility than one would expect on the basis of the "compliance rates" established by researchers (the percentage of stores that comply with age limits for sales of age-restricted products such as alcoholic beverages), we propose a new method to better depict the availability of age-restricted products for minors as an alternative to the compliance approach, which in our view is too narrow.

Underage mystery shoppers were assigned to buy alcohol in a store of their preference, using any (legally allowed) purchase method. The time required to buy alcohol was the main outcome variable. As a benchmark, the time required to buy soft drinks was recorded.

All underage mystery shoppers succeeded in buying alcohol, which means 100% availability. On average, buying alcohol took less than 10 minutes (including travel and shopping time), which was 2 minutes more than when purchasing soft drinks.

Compliance at an outlet level can misrepresent the actual availability to minors. Both the proposed approach to availability and a new approach to age validation indicate that the general assumption that the traditional methods of age validation can effectively prevent the commercial availability of age-restricted products to minors should be seriously questioned.

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