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May 19, 1997

For More Information

George Hacker
202-332-9110 ext. 343

Sting Zings Beer Retailers For Not Checking IDs

Shows Ineffectiveness of Beer Industry's Campaign

Young people without proof of age have little trouble buying beer at neighborhood grocery stores throughout the District of Columbia, according to a study released today by Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The results demonstrate that beer industry campaigns have done little to reduce sales to underage drinkers.

In 25 of 40 attempts in seven District neighborhoods, four young-looking adults purchased beer without presenting identification. In six of the attempts the sellers asked for identification, but sold the beer even when the buyers failed to provide proof of age. CSPI's sting was not designed to show illegal activity.

The study's findings come less than one month after a much-ballyhooed campaign -- including the distribution of "We ID" in-store stickers -- by the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the Beer Institute to promote age checks by retailers who sell beer.

"Despite much fanfare and self-congratulation," said George Hacker, director of CSPI's Alcohol Policies Project , "the beer industry's efforts have failed miserably to get many retailers to check identification."

"Kids don't need fake IDs in D.C.," Hacker said. "Many retailers just don't check. It's not hard to conclude that these merchants sell to minors."

"Industry's education approach is not enough," Hacker said. "We need retailers to check IDs. We need more aggressive and better-funded law enforcement. We need periodic compliance checks and stiffer fines and penalties. And we need industry campaigns that work -- not phony and ineffective public relations programs.

Hacker added, "In addition to education campaigns, brewers and wholesalers could require -- as a condition of selling their beer -- that retailers check proof of age and refuse sales to minors. After all, they now tightly control how their products are promoted and sold by retailers.

"Anheuser-Busch, through its wholesalers, could simply tell retailers: 'You won't sell our beer, unless you card.'"

"The beer industry cannot be trusted," Dr. Alpha Estes Brown, Chairman of 'Cause Children Count Coalition, said, "because teens and children continue to buy and drink their products. We must have better enforcement of regulations since the industry's self-policing has not worked."

CSPI recommended providing more resources to D.C.'s law enforcement and liquor control authorities. It called on the D.C. Control Board and the City Council to provide sufficient funds to the Alcohol Beverage Control Division to increase the number of inspectors who would conduct more frequent inspections of all alcohol licensees.

Although purchasers in the CSPI "sting" operation were all over 21, each looked younger. In separate sidewalk surveys 50 adults were asked to guess the age of each beer buyer. The overwhelming majority thought the one man and three women were below the legal drinking age. For the young man, only 3 in 50 respondents believed him to be 21 or older. For the buyer who appeared to be oldest, only 29 of 50 respondents guessed her to be 21 or older.

Ironically, many of the stores where purchases were made prominently displayed signs that alerted shoppers that proof of age would be requested from cigarette buyers who look up to 27 years old, in compliance with Federal law.

Alcohol is a factor in the three leading causes of death for young people aged 15-20, including homicide, suicide, and unintentional injuries. Beer is the alcoholic beverage of choice among young people, and its consumption is a leading cause of school dropouts, increased crime, unwanted pregnancies, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Participants at this morning's press conference, besides Hacker and Brown, included Carmen Duran of the Latin American Youth Center, and several of the youthful looking beer purchasers who took part in the study.

Results of Neighborhood Survey Conducted May 2 - 5, 1997

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), based in Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit health-advocacy organization with nearly one million members. CSPI focuses on nutrition, food safety, and alcohol policy. The group's Alcohol Policies Project promotes measures to reduce alcohol problems and underage drinking. CSPI publishes both the Nutrition Action Healthletter and Booze News and accepts no government or industry funding.