Alcohol Purchase Surveys


Alcohol use by persons under age 21 years is a major public health problem. Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States, more than tobacco and illicit drugs, and is responsible for more than 4,300 annual deaths among underage youth. Although drinking by persons under the age of 21 is illegal, people aged 12 to 20 years drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States. More than 90% of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinks. On average, underage drinkers consume more drinks per drinking occasion than adult drinkers. In 2010, there were approximately 189,000 emergency rooms visits by persons under age 21 for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol. Furthermore, underage drinking is a serious economic issue, costing North Carolina $1.5 billion in 2010 alone. (CDC, 2014)

We have a responsibility to protect the youth in our community. Retailers are the first line of defense in preventing youth access to alcohol. As al alcohol retailer, you can help us prevent underage drinking in our community

What Are Alcohol Purchase Surveys?

Alcohol Purchase Surveys are performed by trained Coalition members, including an “of-legal-age” buyer. In these random surveys, this trained youthful looking purchaser, without any identification, attempted to purchase an “alco-pop” product or any type of alcohol that is sold at an establishment. (Alco-pop examples are: BOSS, Blast, Joose, Tilt, 4Loco, Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff’s Ice). The purpose of the survey is to test retailer compliance with State/local law regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages to underage purchasers. The surveys also identify alcohol establishments that display good business practices that restrict youth access to alcohol.

As you know, the NC Alcohol Law Enforcement recommends to retailers that any purchaser not appearing at least 30 years of age be required to produce satisfactory proof of age. The intent of this recommendation is to eliminate the sale of alcohol to minors. In conducting each survey, if a clerk refused to consummate the sale because of inability to verify age by a reliable method, this was recorded as a “no sale” or desirable outcome. On the other hand, if a clerk rang up the sale at the register without verifying the age of the purchaser, this was recorded as a “sale” or an undesirable result. While no (State/local) laws were broken, the failure of the clerk to make a reasonable or responsible effort to verify the age of the youthful purchaser leads to the conclusion that a particular business may sell alcohol to minors.

Under the terms of the State grant to participating Coalitions, the results of each survey are reported to the North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement division of the NC Department of Public Safety.

5 Reasons for Conducting Purchase Surveys:

Source –!/vizhome/NCAlcoholDataDashboard/Story

  1. Purchase surveys indicate who is selling alcohol to minors and how often. This lets a community know how large the problem of underage sales is and among which outlets. This information can be very useful in allocating scarce enforcement and prevention resources.

  2. The results of surveys can be used to help raise community awareness and build support for efforts to reduce sales to minors. Such events can bring attention to the problem of alcohol sales to minors and make it easier for policymakers, merchants, and concerned citizens to act.

  3. Purchase surveys can be an intervention. Informing merchants that they are being monitored by the community and providing them with feedback can motivate those with good policies and sales practices to continue them and motivate those with poor policies and practices to change them.

  4. Purchase surveys can be an important part of enforcement. Some communities choose to issue citations to outlets who sell to minors during the surveys. Other communities use the information from the surveys to help target later enforcement efforts. In either case, local police or Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) authorities must always be involved when enforcement efforts are planned as part of a purchase survey.

  5. Purchase surveys can be used to measure the impact of prevention strategies. A series of surveys carried out over time can indicate whether prevention efforts are having an effect on sales to minors. This information can help communities decide whether to continue or discontinue particular policies or programs and can indicate how to modify prevention strategies to make them more effective.

Rules and Guidelines for Alcohol-Selling Retail Outlets:

Avoid failing the alcohol purchase survey by following these rules:

  1. The law says if you’re not sure the customer is 21, refuse to sell alcohol to that person! Help eliminate the guesswork: Don’t sell unless you’re sure.
  2. An important thing to remember is that minors come in all shapes and sizes. Think about it. Among a group of minors wanting alcohol, the one who looks the oldest is probably the one sent into the store to try to buy it. There are a lot of kids who will walk right into a store and not think twice about trying to illegally purchase alcohol, they simply do not act nervous.
  3. You cannot tell by a person’s face, clothes or behavior alone how old the person may be. Kids are clever and smart, and will try many tactics to get you to sell them alcohol.
  4. Do not rely entirely on a customer’s appearance or behavior when checking identification. Asking a purchaser for their date of birth is NOT the same as checking to see their ID
  5. Some minor males may have beards and mustaches. Some may have bald or shaved heads. Some minor males are big, which may make them appear older.
  6. Some minors act very confident and sure of themselves when attempting to purchase alcohol. Some minors will make direct eye contact with you while lying about their age.
  7. Some minor females may wear makeup or clothing that makes them appear older.
  8. However, keep in mind that some minors might appear nervous, may not make eye contact with you, may not have facial hair, or may have smooth, unlined faces.
  9. Ask the customer to hand you the ID so you can closely examine it.
  10. Look for signs that the ID has been tampered with. Some signs are: irregular laminations; anything other than a smooth surface; bumpy or raised surfaces by the picture; cuts anywhere on the ID; changes to birth dates, expiration dates or “minor until” dates.
  11. Look at the printing type on the ID. Do all letters and numbers appear the same?
  12. Compare the picture on the ID to the person before you.
  13. Do they look the same? Does the physical description on the ID match the person standing before you? (Remember that weight and hair may change, but height rarely will).
  14. Check the expiration date. If the ID has expired, it is unacceptable.
  15. You may choose to check the ID of anyone who wants to purchase alcohol. Best practice is to card everybody regardless of age. 

Additional Training

Alcohol Law Enforcement – Be a Responsible Seller (BARS)


ABC Commission NC – Responsible Alcohol Seller Program (RASP)


As a manager and/or owner it is your duty to train your staff on carding policies. Please remember free trainings are available to off-premise business owners, managers and employees through The Partnership for Substance Free Youth in Buncombe County. Contact us for additional information.