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A Healthy Return on Your Town Hall Meeting Investment—Getting to Outcomes: Alcohol Compliance Checks

01/25/2012

Concerned grownups are not the only community members investing time and effort in preventing and reducing underage alcohol use. In 2012, youth in communities across America will organize, promote, and participate in Town Hall Meetings supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Many of them are eager to inform parents and other adults about challenges they face in avoiding alcohol use. Young people also are playing an active role in helping their communities implement approaches that can help achieve positive outcomes, such as alcohol compliance checks.

What are alcohol compliance checks?
Alcohol compliance checks are one of nine types of environmental prevention1 shown to be effective in preventing underage drinking and its consequences. Alcohol compliance checks are used to deter alcohol outlets from selling alcohol to underage youth. Law enforcement officials supervise undercover youth who attempt to purchase alcohol; if the attempt is successful, the establishment is penalized. Compliance checks are thought to be most effective when they are frequent, well publicized, and well designed; solicit community support; and impose penalties on the licensed establishment rather than just the server.

How do alcohol compliance checks reduce underage drinking?
Frequent use of compliance checks decreases alcohol sales to minors significantly and also is associated with reduced alcohol-related accidents. By decreasing alcohol availability, compliance checks are believed to also reduce alcohol-related problems and crime among youth.

How can my community take this action?
Take the following steps to initiate or strengthen compliance checks:

  • Engage the media. Your community needs to understand why compliance checks are needed and are not designed to target and unnecessarily punish merchants. Information about the frequency of illegal alcohol purchases by youth; the nature and rate of youth alcohol-related problems within the community; and the link among alcohol availability, consumption, and alcohol-related problems aids understanding. Media advocacy may be needed to convince a skeptical community and law enforcement to commit resources to implementing these checks.
  • Use social media to expand public outreach. Consider using electronic media (e.g., Web sites and email lists) and social media (e.g., Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter) to raise awareness about your compliance check–related activities and to get input from the community.
  • Conduct Town Hall Meetings to build community support for compliance checks. Town Hall Meetings help increase understanding and awareness of underage drinking and its consequences while encouraging individuals, families, and communities to address the problem. They are designed to alert and empower the community as well as generate interest from the media. Town Hall Meetings can give local communities the opportunity to come together to learn more about underage drinking and its impact on both individuals and the community.
  • Measure and report successful outcomes. Some objective and subjective measures of the effectiveness of alcohol compliance checks are:
    • Rates of youth motor vehicle crashes;
    • Rates of youth arrested and convicted of driving under the influence;
    • Self-report of underage drinking and drunk driving;
    • Perceived likelihood of being caught driving with an illegal blood alcohol level;
    • Awareness of impaired driving and zero tolerance laws; and
    • Degree of support from merchants.

Helpful Resources

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center maintains the Alcohol Compliance Check Database for law enforcement and community groups to track illegal sales to minors. The Center also offers related publications:

  • The Guide to Responsible Alcohol Sales: Off Premise Clerk, Licensee, and Manager Training;
  • Preventing Sales of Alcohol to Minors: What You Should Know About Merchant Education Programs; and
  • Strategies for Reducing Third-Party Transactions of Alcohol to Underage Youth.

SAMHSA’s Focus on Prevention (PDF 6.17 MB) is available from the SAMHSA Store in print and electronically.

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking: What it Means to You: A Guide to Action for Communities (PDF 973 KB) summarizes facts and recommendations from the 2007 Surgeon General’s appeal to the Nation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s The Health Communicator’s Social Media Toolkit (PDF 2.42 MB) has information to expand your organization’s outreach.

1 Effective environmental prevention targets four key areas that influence alcohol problems: access and availability, policy and enforcement, community norms, and media messages. Research shows that policies that change the context of the environment, limit access to alcohol, and prevent harmful behavior will result in reduced alcohol use, including underage drinking.