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More Frequent Policing Cuts Booze Sales to Minors

Effects of one-time police visits to bars, stores wear off over time, study finds

THURSDAY, March 17, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Here it comes again: Spring Break, a time when too many underage U.S. teens find a way to get their hands on alcohol.

However, a new study suggests that year-round policing of establishments that sell alcohol could cut down on the dangerous drinking that's become part of this annual ritual.

"We found that enforcement has significant effects, but just like enforcement against any offense, you can't just do it once and think it solves everything," researcher Alexander C. Wagenaar, a professor of epidemiology and health policy at the University of Florida (UF) College of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

"We have to create an ongoing perception on the part of the managers and owners of these establishments that they have a decent chance of getting caught if they sell to teenagers," Wagenaar explained.

The five-year national study by researchers at UF and the University of Minnesota found regular police checks of businesses that sell alcohol strongly deter alcohol sales to minors and are far more effective than programs that simply train bar and restaurant staff to identify minors and refuse them alcohol.

The study, published in the March issue of Addiction, included 942 establishments that sold alcohol in 20 Midwestern U.S. cities. These establishments included restaurants, bars, bowling alleys and liquor, grocery and convenience stores.

Law enforcement checks on liquor, grocery and convenience stores that sold alcohol for off-premise consumption resulted in an immediate 17 percent decrease in alcohol sales to minors. That reduction trailed off over time, from 11 percent two weeks after a check to just 3 percent after three months.

Police checks on restaurants and bars that sold alcohol resulted in an immediate 17 percent drop in alcohol sales to minors, which slipped to 14 percent at two weeks and 11 percent at two months.

Maintaining these policing efforts would do far more than simply curb excessive partying, the researchers stressed.

"We're looking at a behavior that is a leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults," Wagenaar explained. "All major causes of death and injury among teens have a substantial proportion that involve alcohol. So if you narrow down that pipeline flow of alcohol to youth, and attenuate their drinking behavior, the health benefits are large."

Ralph Hingson, director of the division of epidemiology and prevention at the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said in a prepared statement that the study "underscores the potential for enforcement of underage alcohol sales laws to reduce underage access to alcohol."

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about teens and alcohol.

SOURCE: University of Florida, news release, March, 2005
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