Objectives. Commercial availability is an important contributor to alcohol use by young people. The purpose of this study was to test the purchasability of alcohol by youth who appeared to be under the legal age of sale in all types of businesses licensed to sell alcohol in upper Midwest communities. Methods. Female buyers who were age 21 but whose apparent age as rated by a panel averaged 19 years attempted to purchase beer without age identification at all off-sale outlets (n = 395) and a random sample of on-sale outlets (n = 492) in 24 communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Two purchase attempts were made at each outlet, with the buyer randomly assigned to outlet and community. Characteristics of the outlets, clientele, signs, interaction with the sellers or servers, and purchase success were recorded. Results. The buyers were successful in purchasing beer without age identification in 50% of attempts in on-sale outlets and 52% of off-sale attempts. Almost 75% of the outlets sold beer to the buyers at least once in two attempts. In off-sale businesses buyers were more successful if the salespersons were male and if the businesses were located in residential areas or malls. On-sale purchase attempts were more likely to be successful if the server appeared to be younger than 30 years, if the business was a restaurant as opposed to a bar alone, and if signs warning against sales to miners were located at the checkouts. Conclusions. The results of this study confirm and extend previous reports of the ability of youth to purchase alcohol and support the conclusion that commercial availability of alcohol to youth is widespread.
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