Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

Persistent and credible enforcement needed to prevent widespread alcohol sales to under-18s

If like me you’ve been seeing a rise in the number of test purchasing stories in the media (particularly the BBC’s website) then the Drug and Alcohol Findings paper on test purchasing may well be of real interest:

Fear of being caught out by test purchases created only a short-lived dip in illegal sales to children under 18. The study behind this finding helped justify the recent legalisation of test purchases. The measure was intended to help significantly cut teenage drinking, but the study casts doubt on whether this will be the result.

The paper goes on to say:

In two English cities 83% of the attempts by 16-year-olds to buy alcohol resulted in a sale, significantly more often to girls. Among 13-year old girls 42% of attempts succeeded but just 4% among boys. 8 in 10 sales to 16-year-olds and two-thirds to 13-year-old girls were unchallenged. When challenged children showed a card with their real dates of birth; half the 16-year-olds and a fifth of the 13-year-old girls were still sold alcohol. Surveyed by telephone, only two out of 95 vendors saw much chance of their being penalised for selling to minors.

It says that vendors make a judgement about the likelihood of being caught, and this was the most important consideration in the way they approach underage sales.  Apparently when the threat of police or trading standards action recedes then vendors return to feeling safe in allowing young people to purchase alcohol.   The paper suggests there’s no difference between small vendors or supermarkets.

There is some good news:

Threats of legal action against alcohol vendors who serve underage children must be persistent and visible in their results. In areas where underage drinking is seen as serious enough to warrant it, coordinated action by police, local authorities and the courts exploiting new powers backed by training and information for licensees and other staff could substantially reduce underage sales.

But this needs to be sustained action rather than one off or short term if it is to work.

This fits well with the Blueprint research, and their delivery report says:

A literature review was funded on the design and effectiveness of interventions to reduce illegal underage access to substances (Devlin et al. 2002). This concluded that community strategies that combine efforts such as retailer education, enforcement by police and trading standards (TS), and proof-of-age schemes are the most likely to affect youth drinking and smoking behaviour, although evidence of sustainability was limited.

Later it goes on to find:

Where retailer education and proof-of-age support forms a significant part of a multicomponent programme, there is a need to build in sufficient time to plan and develop the materials and resources needed to support these activities. It is suggested that work carried out under Blueprint would require a minimum of two years to properly develop and evaluate.

However, the Blueprint researchers seem to have a different view of why underage sales may be taking place:

In the majority of illegal under-age sales, the underlying problem is less likely to be wilful mis-selling than poor staff supervision and training. In view of this, successful programmes should combine enforcement with education activities. Providing advice and support on effective refusal strategies (including point-of-sale signage and literature) and ensuring shopkeepers make adequate provisions for monitoring staff training and refusal events are critical features of a robust retailer education and enforcement programme.

Filed under: alcohol, Test Purchasing,

About this blog

This blog tries to pick up relevant media and research stories about drug education. It mainly focuses on information in England as this is the geographical remit for the Drug Education Forum. We welcome comments that are on topic.

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July 2021