The Internet is providing a new avenue for underage drinking in the United States. Results of a new survey confirm that millions of teenagers either buy alcohol online or know an underage friend who does.
A related audit of states shows that many state legislators are easing restrictions on online alcohol sales with little monitoring or oversight.
“This is a dangerous situation,” said Stan Hastings chairman of the Wine and Spirits Wholesales of America, Inc. (WSWA), the trade group that commissioned the survey.
“For the first time, we have hard evidence that millions of kids are buying alcohol online and that the Internet is fast becoming a high-tech, low-risk way for kids to get beer, wine and liquor delivered to their home with no ID check,” Hastings said in a statement.
The survey results are “alarming,” he added, “because state legislators are rushing to allow wine and other online alcohol sales at a time we know regulatory agencies are telling us they are unable to monitor these types of sales because they lack manpower and resources.”
Conducted in 2006 by Teenage Research Unlimited, the survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,001 young people between the ages of 14 and 20 years revealed that 2 percent (representing 551,000 nationally) reported having personally bought alcohol online.
Moreover, 12 percent, equivalent to 3.1 million minors, report having a friend who has ordered alcohol online.
The survey also shows that alcohol purchased online is shared among friends. Roughly 3 percent of 14- to 20-year-olds (equivalent to 735,000 nationally) admit to drinking alcohol purchased by someone else online or by phone.
And more than half of those with friends who have obtained alcohol illegally online or by phone say those friends share it (80 percent), drink it themselves (79 percent), or give to another underage person (53 percent).
Researchers warn that as awareness and exposure to online alcohol sales increases, even more minors can be expected to buy beer, wine, and liquor on the Internet unless steps are taken today to address the problem.
This is consistent with a 2003 National Academy of Sciences report that concluded that minors are buying alcohol over the Internet and that increasing use of the Internet will make this problem worse in the future.
Compounding the problem, at least 20 states passed laws expanding online sales of alcohol in the past year, according to WSWA.