Minors Don’t Buy Alcohol Online
And yet, this fundamental fact has gone unnoticed in the wake of a recently released study that looks at minors access to alcohol conducted by Chapel Hill North Carolina and funded by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation.
While this study shows that 8 students attempting to buy wine from 100 unknown on-line vendors demonstrated that 48 out of 100 orders were delivered, the study itself and the media coverage that has followed somehow failed to mentioned that the problem of minors buying alcohol on-line is no problem at all.
First the facts.
According to a study done by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)—not exactly a pro-alcohol organization—minors said they obtain their alcohol in the following way:
1. From a parent, guardian or family member who is 21 or older (26 percent)
2. From someone 21 or older who is not related to the teen (25 percent)
3. From someone under 21 who is not related to the teen (22 percent)
4. Took it from home (10 percent)
5. Took it from someone else’s home (5 percent)
Please note that "online" doesn't even make it on the list.
Yet, the lead researcher for the Chapel Hill study, Rebecca Williams, had this to say in an interview with ABC News:
"The study provides evidence that illegal alcohol sales are a significant problem."
In fact this study provides no such evidence. Rather, the study shows that under certain circumstances, when not worried about getting caught (students ordering wine were given immunity from prosecution) and when parents are told about the experiment and not a deterrent, sometimes minors can get alcohol delivered. There is nothing about this information that suggests any evidence of "illegal alcohol sales" being a "significant problem".
In fact, no member of law enforcement and no member of the alcohol regulatory community has ever even suggested that on-line sales of alcohol to minors presents any existential problem whatsoever.
All this leads us to believe that just like snake oil was never really meant as a means of curing anything, this study was not meant to actually illuminate the reality of how minors interact with sources of on-line wine sellers.
It should also be noted that this new study showed that minors attempting to obtain alcohol on-line were no more successful at it than when they tried to obtain alcohol from a brick and mortar location. When you factor in the huge barriers to obtaining alcohol on-line that minors face, it becomes apparent why minors are not using on-line sources to obtain alcohol. Consider this scenario:
Little Pete wants to obtain some Chardonnay for his weekend drinking with friends. First, we have to assume that Pete thinks ahead far enough to order the wine a good week to two weeks in advance and we have to assume that Pete wants to drink Chardonnay.
Pete must first either have his own or must steal a credit card to make the purchase on-line. Next, Pete must get through any on-line age verification systems on-line. Finally, Pete must have the extra money to pay not only for the wine but for the shipping of the wine and he must find a way to hide this transaction if the credit card is not his.
If Pete is a long term thinker, if he does like Chardonnay, if he does have or has stolen a credit card and if he is confident the transaction will not come to the attention of his parents, he must then be ready to be at the door in a week or two to meet the driver that delivers the wine. If Pete is at home, he needs to make sure he answers the door and his parents don't and even then he must convince the driver he is over 21 with a fake idea or some fast talking or with the hopes the driver hasn't been well trained or is somewhat dull.
On the other hand, Pete could call his friend, Carole, who is 21 years old, and ask her to simply go down to the store and buy him some beer. The other option is sneak the stuff out of the parents liquor cabinet while they aren't around.
No….Minors don't buy wine on-line.
Of particular concern is another portion of the Chapel Hill research that seems to indicate that the researchers have an agenda. Toward the end of the discussion part of the paper they note that by "working at the federal level to cut off vendors from their established shipping and payment-processing partners could, as it did with ICVs (Internet Cigarette Vendors), lead to an increase in vendors going out of business and a substantial decrease in vendors using banned shippers and payment processors."
I have a hard time believing that the administration at North Carolina at Chapel Hill would endorse a study that concludes actions that could "lead to an increase in vendors going out of business".
To address the fact that in the Chapel Hill study it was determined that 48 of 100 orders placed by minors did actually occur, we can offer some happy news: decreasing this number is a pretty simple process that requires no legislation, no hearings, no hyperbolic claims of an epidemic and no outrageous claims by researchers. It merely takes some additional training in ID checking by common carriers and the continued increase in use of on-line age verification services.
What we have here, in this study, is evidence that a potential problem does not exist and to the extent that minors can order wine on-line, their ability to actually get it is easily diminished by some simple tasks.
Unfortunately, this study will be used and abused by those who see on-line wine purchasing as a form of competition they do not like and as a means to burnish resumes by appearing to have uncovered a problem that does not exist.