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Turning Off the Tap

NCJ Number
Law Enforcement Technology Volume: 32 Issue: 9 Dated: September 2005 Pages: 80,82,88
Rebecca Kanable
Date Published
September 2005
8 pages
After documenting the serious consequences that can stem from underage drinking, this article proposes targeting adults who violate minimum-legal-drinking-age (MLDA) laws as a means of reducing minors' level of alcoholic-beverage consumption.
Underage drinking can lead to traffic deaths, suicides, homicides, unintentional injuries, assaults, rapes, alcohol dependence, and vandalism, in addition to alcohol poisoning and damage to brains not yet fully developed. There is a movement to refocus law enforcement efforts toward adults who illegally sell or provide alcohol to minors, because it is unlikely that sufficient resources exist to deter underage drinkers themselves. Examples of components of MLDA laws are prohibitions against consuming alcohol prior to age 21, using a fake ID, an adult furnishing alcohol to a minor, an alcohol vendor selling alcohol to minors, and a driver under age 21 having any alcohol in his/her blood system. Research by the Oregon Research Institute provides empirical evidence that underage drinking can be reduced by increasing the enforcement of the MLDA laws and reducing the number of outlets that sell alcohol to minors. The Oregon study found that 70 percent of youth got their alcoholic beverage from friends, parents, or other social sources; only 30 percent obtained their alcoholic beverages from commercial sources. Law enforcement strategies must target these nonretail sources. One strategy is to have a system of enforcement known as "shoulder tap" campaigns, during which police employ underage youth to approach adults to purchase alcohol for them. If the adult complies, he/she is fined or arrested. Other strategies described are keg registration laws and education campaigns.