That is the unsettling conclusion of a major national study of compliance with the legal age limit for selling alcoholic drinks, carried out by the University of Twente on behalf of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. In the study, 14 and 15-year-old mystery shoppers made a total of 1,338 attempts to buy alcoholic drinks in supermarkets, off-licences, bars and restaurants, sports clubs and through home delivery services. The vast majority of these attempted purchases were successful. In supermarkets, for example, the Licensing and Catering Act was only complied with in 30 percent of cases. Even when sales staff asked for proof of age, many under-age customers nevertheless succeeded in buying alcohol.
Article 20 of the Licensing and Catering Act prohibits the sale of alcoholic drinks to young people who are unable to provide proof that they are over the age of 16 (for spirits the age limit is 18). Researchers from the University of Twente carried out a major national representative study on behalf of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport looking into compliance with the age limit that applies to the sale of alcoholic drinks. The study involved a total of 58 different mystery shoppers aged 14 and 15, with an “average” appearance. They went to supermarkets, off-licences, pubs and restaurants, and sports clubs to see if they were allowed to purchase low-alcohol drinks (containing less than 15% alcohol). At off-licences they also tried to purchase stronger alcoholic drinks. The mystery shoppers also ordered alcohol from a variety of home delivery services.
The study shows that supermarkets, off-licences, bars and restaurants, sports clubs and home delivery services perform very poorly when it comes to compliance with the Licensing and Catering Act. In supermarkets, for example, 70 percent of the attempted purchases were successful, while every single order placed with a home delivery service (e.g. a supermarket grocery delivery service, a beer delivery service, various home delivery restaurants) resulted in a successful purchase. The table below shows the level of compliance for each site-of-sale category. Remarkably, even in cases where sales staff asked for proof of age, many young shoppers still managed to purchase alcohol. They succeeded even though the sales person could easily see on the ID provided that the customer was too young.
Dr Joris van Hoof and his research group at the University of Twente have been conducting research into the availability of alcohol to minors. To date, the group’s research has encompassed over 6,000 alcohol purchase attempts by under-age mystery shoppers. The study the group has now conducted for the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport is the first major national representative study into compliance. Dr Van Hoof explains “These results confirm those from dozens of regional studies that we conducted previously: compliance with legal age limits in the Netherlands is still very poor indeed.”
Previous research conducted by Dr Van Hoof and his team revealed that alcohol is widely commercially available to young people. Despite legislation and years of effort by the industry, it would appear that purchasing alcohol is almost as easy as purchasing soft drinks for 14 and 15-year-olds. On average it takes the youngsters less than twelve minutes (including travel time) to buy alcohol.
Note to the press
Click here to read a digital version of the study Alcoholverkoop aan Jongeren; een landelijk nalevingsverzoek [Selling alcohol to minors; a national compliance study]. For further details, please contact our Science Information Officer Joost Bruysters on +31 (0)53 489 2773 or +31 (0)6 1048 8228.