By Karen Zautyk
In 2013, the Hudson County Coalition for Drug Free Communities (HCCDFC) conducted a test at a number of liquor stores in Kearny, Harrison and East Newark to see how many would check the age identification on young customers. Most of those visited failed to do so, the coalition reported.
The results were published, along with reminders that 21 is the legal drinking age in New Jersey.
A year later, the experiment was repeated at the same stores, and several additional venues. And in 2014, the majority — 63% — of vendors visited still flunked.
Both tests were conducted on Dec. 30, the eve of New Year’s Eve — “a holiday largely associated with excessive drinking.” You would think vendors would be especially wary. That they apparently were not is disappointing.
The coalition issued the results of its December 2014 survey earlier this month, with a comparison to the earlier experiment.
In 2013, 11 stores selling liquor in West Hudson were visited, and eight failed to ask for proof of age. “At that time,” the coalition reported, “we chose a staff member in his early 20s. Though this HCCDFC member was of legal age, he had boyish features and was dressed in a college sweatshirt and sneakers. We did not try to conceal his age.” However, as a coalition spokesperson noted last year, “Based on his appearance alone, his age would be hard to determine.”
[Editor’s note: It is important to clarify that the coalition was not actually breaking the law. The purchasers in both tests were over 21.]
“Exactly a year later,” the coalition statement said, “a 22 year-old female coalition representative was chosen to purchase alcohol from local stores. She too was dressed in a college sweatshirt and her age was not concealed.
“She visited the same 11 stores from 2013 along with five new locations.
“Of the 16 stores that she purchased alcohol from, 10 sold her alcohol without properly checking her identification. This amounts to nearly 63% of vendors not requesting identification before selling her alcohol.”
There was a slight improvement in compliance, 37% of the stores asking for ID, as compared with 27% in 2013. But, “it is still an alarming rate.”
As with the 2013 experiment, the coalition is not publicly naming the 2014 noncompliant liquor stores. Part of the reason: to prevent minors from learning where they might illegally obtain alcohol. But, in addition, the coalition does not want to assume law enforcement’s role.
“Informing the local police is more effective,” said Karena Malko of Hudson County’s Partners in Prevention. “The ABC [Alcoholic Beverage Control] can then speak to it directly.”
Malko noted that the coalition works with law enforcement, offering free TAMs [Techniques of Alcohol Management] training to liquor store employees.
“We are constantly running TAMs training,” she said, noting that classes have been held “in just about every municipality in the county.”
The training consists of a single 3- to 4-hour class, providing, the coalition said, “the skills and information necessary for the prevention of illegal sale of alcohol beverages to underage persons.”
There is a limit of 30 students per class, and it is first-come, first-served, Malko said. Alcoholic beverage license holders are notified by mail of upcoming sessions, and police departments also circulate flyers, she said.
Because the classes fill up fast, she urged early sign-ups when a license holder is contacted.
The coalition continues to emphasize that “supplying alcohol to minors is a serious offense that can incur infractions to liquor license holders who choose to ignore it.”
According to New Jersey’s ABC Handbook: “If there is any doubt that the purchaser is under 21 years of age, the sale should not be made. Licensees have the right to refuse a sale if they believe a purchaser is under the age of 21. A license which has four such violations (of providing alcohol to a minor) within two years presumptively will be revoked.”
The coalition says it has “prioritized underage drinking as a primary public health concern” because of a “high correlation rate of injury and social consequences, including but not limited to: binge drinking, driving while intoxicated, alcohol poisoning and high-risk behavior.”
It is urging additional and closer monitoring of liquor vendors statewide and would like to see implementation of store policies to require proof of age for anyone who appears to be under 30.
[Personal note: There is a store in North Arlington that requires anyone buying cigarettes to produce ID. Your correspondent finds this flattering. That venue has a strict age-limit policy; why can’t others enforce the law, for cigs and liquor?]
For more information about the Hudson County Coalition, visit www.hudsoncountycoalition.org.