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Published: Saturday, 4/2/2005

Survey shows drop in underage alcohol sales

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ken Coppens walked into a carryout just before Christmas and plunked down a six-pack of beer on the counter, just to see if he could buy it.

The University of Toledo student was 21 years old when he ran in and out of random stores throughout Lucas County that weekend trying to buy beer. He didn't have his ID with him, nor did another UT student performing the same task. Yet they were able to come away with beer from 10 of the 100 stores they entered, according to results of The Community Partnership's 2005 identification compliance survey.

The 90 percent compliance rate was the best it has been since the organization began doing the surveys in 1998. But still, organizers see room for improvement.

"The first year we did this survey, 45 percent of the clerks sold alcohol without checking," said Deacon Dzierzawski, executive director of The Community Partnership. "This time, only 10 percent of the outlets sold. That means we will redouble our efforts again."

The partnership, a coalition dedicated to substance abuse prevention and intervention, began the compliance checks in response to results of a survey conducted by the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services that indicated about 42 percent of all underage drinkers obtain their alcohol from stores.

The studies - conducted in 1998, 2002, and the weekend of Dec. 17, 18, and 19, last year - were to determine the extent young people obtain alcohol from stores, Mr. Dzierzawski said.

Around UT, no stores sold to the young adults without an ID. The county's northwest quadrant, including the Sylvania and Berkey areas, sold about 50 percent of the time.

"There were extremes," said Dannie Edmon, community outreach coordinator.

"One clerk pulled out the phone as if to call 911, and there was one clerk who put the beer in a Pepsi box so as to disguise it."

Mr. Edmon said because the partnership has no law enforcement authority, all that could be done after the results were tallied was to send letters.

Each retailer entered received a letter, either congratulating the establishment or offering training services for the employees. The owners of three of the 10 stores that sold without checking for identification accepted the training offer, Mr. Edmon added.

Earl Mack of the Ohio Department of Public Safety's investigative unit said despite the regular police compliance checks, plenty of convenience stores do not check IDs.

"If I look at the past 10 years or so, I would have to say there is some improvement," said Mr. Mack, who heads the Toledo enforcement office.

"But I'm quite disturbed in the amount of carryouts that are still selling to our kids."

Springfield schools Superintendent Cynthia Beekley is a member of the Partnership's Underage Access to Alcohol Task Force.

She said it is well known that underage drinkers obtain alcohol from either a home or a convenience store.

"If we can intervene in terms of availability, that will curb use among teenagers," she said.

"I was very encouraged to see the dramatic drop in the number of sales [on this survey]. Hopefully, we can get it to zero."

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-724-6076.



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