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Minors Drink with a Click of a Mouse

In April 2006, The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) commissioned Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU) to study minors, their online activity and alcohol consumption/purchases. The study found startling numbers about minors' drinking habits. According to the study, more than half a million minors aged 14-20 have bought alcohol online.

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By Naomi Soto

Point, click, and pay. That's all Patrick*, a college student from Orlando, FL, had to do to buy alcohol for his 20th birthday party. And he is only one example of a growing trend.

In April 2006, The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) commissioned Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU) to study minors, their online activity and alcohol consumption/purchases. The study found startling numbers about minors' drinking habits. According to the study, more than half a million minors aged 14-20 have bought alcohol online. "There is so much alcohol on the internet and so little safeguards," said Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America spokesman John Fitzpatrick. "Common sense says that the more available alcohol gets on the internet, the more kids will get it."

Image of wine glass with wine in itAccording to Patrick, it only took one Google search to find multiple sites that sell alcohol. He was able to buy many types of hard liquor for a reasonable price, including the more difficult-to-find varieties, such as absinthe, a hallucinogenic alcohol that is illegal in the United States.

The TRU study also concluded that at least 3.1 million minors have friends who have purchased alcohol online. These online purchases include wine, beer and hard liquor. They can all be bought with a debit, credit or bank gift card.

"I figured it would both be easier and cheaper online," Patrick said. "It was almost too easy. I only needed my credit card, and that was it."

Furthermore, the study found that nearly one in 10 minors have visited a site that sells alcohol, while a third of minors are at least considering buying online. When alcohol is sold online it is much more difficult to check any identification. More often than not, overnight delivery companies leave boxes of alcohol at the doorstep.

While WSWA acknowledges that most minors still buy alcohol in the conventional manners—fake licenses, older friends, and parents who think that is best to provide alcohol in a safe environment where they can supervise—they argue that it is only a matter of time until more kids realize how easy it is to buy alcohol online.

"Kids buy everything online like books and CDs," Fitzpatrick said. "Now with Facebook.com and Myspace.com sites, they're virtually living online," he added.

A growing fear is that minors who should not be drinking are gaining access to alcohol that is not even regulated. Officials at WSWA voiced that as scary it is for kids to buy alcohol made in the U.S., it is worse for them to buy alcohol from abroad.

Amanda, 20, is a junior at The George Washington University. She chose to remain anonymous as well to protect her identity. Amanda frequently purchases wine online.

"I'm a wine snob, I try to get bottles from all over the world," Amanda said. "I know it's illegal, but it's not my job to check ID's."

As with Patrick's absinthe, there is no way to know where the wine Amanda purchases comes from.

There is currently little research as to which demographic buys alcohol online the most, but WSWA stated with such great access, the danger applies to every race and age group. "This is an issue across the board. Kids in the cities and suburbs are all trying to get their hands on alcohol," said Fitzpatrick.

Several college-aged students who are under 21 and buy alcohol online said they wished they had known about this earlier.

"I didn't know until freshman of year of college, but if someone had told me about this about when I was 17… my prom would have definitely been more interesting," said Jake. Jake is now 20 at American University.

The "2006 National Survey on Drug Use & Health" published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that at least 10.8 million people between 12-20 years old drank alcohol within one month of the survey.

WSWA believes to lessen the numbers of kids who are drinking alcohol and buying it online, parents need to do three things.

First, parents must communicate early that alcohol is for adults and not children. Second, parents must monitor their children's online activity. The TRU study found that at least 68 percent of parents do not try to control their child's online activity and 75 percent of teens believe parents cannot control their online activity. If internet activity is not regulated and/or the computer is kept in the teen's room, there is no way to stop a teen to getting alcohol in just a few days.

Third, parents must know their elected state officials' stances on alcohol. The sell of alcohol is a right reserved for states, but many states do not regulate online alcohol sales. In fact, in 2006 an audit showed that 39 states did not complete an audit of online alcohol retail sites. If more states put up more safeguards on the retail sites, than alcohol sites could be limited to only people over 21 years of age.

"We're not opposed to how it's sold—even if online—but rather how it's delivered. If you want to buy something online, it should just be done in a safe responsible way. Alcohol bought online should be delivered to local liquor stores which can then do an ‘ID check'," said Fitzpatrick. "We need greater policing of what's going on in these online sales."

*Patrick and the others wish to remain anonymous.

--

Naomi Soto is a journalism intern at OMHRC. Comments? E-mail: Naomi Soto

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Content Last Modified: 10/9/2007 8:56:00 AM
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