Did you hear? Alcohol is easy to get for underage youth in NYC | Center on Addiction

Did you hear? Alcohol is easy to get for underage youth in NYC

Did you hear? Alcohol is easy to get for underage youth in NYC

Over a quarter of underage youth in New York City have consumed alcohol in the past month, and while their most common method of obtaining alcohol is getting it from other people, the second most common is purchasing it themselves. In an effort to combat this problem, the New York City Department of Health (DOH) launched an initiative through the State Liquor Authority (SLA) to conduct an undercover investigation of New York City stores.

Unfortunately, the results of the investigation, which were released last month, are discouraging and alarming. Over a five-month period, the SLA visited 911 New York stores that have liquor licenses. These stores account for just one tenth of the alcohol-selling stores throughout the city. And what did the SLA find? That 58 percent of the stores investigated sold alcohol to minors working undercover for the SLA.

Underage drinking and underage purchasing of alcohol is not a new problem, nor is it unique to New York City. In the 1990s, multiple studies conducted in various parts of the country found that alcohol sales to minors were frequent, with underage youth being able to buy alcohol 47 to 100 percent of the time.

As a means of curbing adolescent alcohol sales, many areas introduced compliance checks, which typically involve an underage decoy attempting to purchase alcohol without ID, as well as an undercover police officer present to monitor the interaction. This is essentially how the current investigation by New York’s SLA was conducted.

The good news for New York City is that this tactic works. Research has found that after a compliance check, stores and restaurants are immediately less likely to sell alcohol to underage youth. Not only that, but neighboring establishments are also less likely to sell alcohol to minors even though they weren’t directly involved in the compliance check.

In New York, stores that are caught selling alcohol to underage youth can be fined $2,500 for a first offense and up to $10,000 for repeat offenses. Repeat offenders may also have their license to sell alcohol suspended or even revoked.

So why don’t stores comply? According to a recent study, the top five reasons stores continue to sell to minors are:

  • Believing that youth would simply have someone else buy alcohol for them
  • Feeling that stores should not have to be responsible for making sure underage youth don’t drink
  • Worrying that customers may become aggressive if asked for ID
  • Cashiers having difficulty estimating customers’ ages
  • Believing that if they didn’t sell the alcohol, youth would purchase it elsewhere

Underage drinking is a serious problem. It is responsible for injuries, emergency room visits, accidents and even violence. And with more than half of the New York stores investigated selling alcohol to minors, underage drinking is obviously a large problem.

But underage drinking is not just the fault of stores selling alcohol to youth — it is a public health problem that we all contribute to, from the positive portrayal of underage drinking in our media, to adults who provide alcohol to youth, and yes, to the store clerk who doesn’t check ID. But we can also all contribute to the solution, and through this investigation, and the education and training they provide, the DOH is doing just that.


 Alexis Nager, MS

 Alexis Nager is a Research Associate at CASAColumbia



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