Vice Squad
Friday, July 16, 2004
Selling Alcohol to (Apparently) Intoxicated Patrons

If you work in a liquor store and a visibly intoxicated person attempts to buy some liquor, what do you do? Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that, if you are like most clerks, you make the sale, and you are particularly likely to do so if you are young. Here's the story from the Kansas City Star (registration required). An excerpt:

"Traci Toomey, an associate professor of epidemiology, and her colleagues hired actors to impersonate drunks.
They sent them to 355 liquor stores, bars and restaurants in and around Minneapolis to try to buy a drink or a six-pack of beer.
Observers were present at each locale to witness the attempted transaction.
The buyers put on Oscar-worthy performances -- staggering, stumbling into things, slurring their speech, and showing other signs of acute inebriation. No matter. They were sold alcohol in 76 percent of the bars and 83 percent of the stores."

This is not good news. General alcohol regulations can be more lenient if targeted interventions aimed at misusers such as drunk drivers are effective. Visibly inebriated people are at much greater risk of causing harm to others (and themselves) from additional consumption. Cutting off the visibly inebriated from purchasing additional alcohol is a prudent move -- even though some of the denied purchasers would not be problematic -- and one that helps to protect an overall liberal regulatory regime.

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