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Preventing Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Enhanced Enforcement of Laws Prohibiting Sales to Minors

Enhanced enforcement programs initiate or increase the frequency of retailer compliance checks for laws against the sale of alcohol to minors in a community. Retailer compliance checks, or “sting operations,” are conducted by, or coordinated with local law enforcement or alcohol beverage control (ABC) agencies, and violators receive legal or administrative sanctions.

Enhanced enforcement programs are often conducted as part of multicomponent, community-based efforts to reduce underage drinking. Many also include strategies to increase perceived risk of detection by publicizing the increased enforcement activities and cautioning proprietors against selling alcohol to minors. These messages can be delivered using either mass media or by sending letters to all local alcohol retailers.

Summary of Task Force Recommendations and Findings

The Community Preventive Services Task Force  recommends enhanced enforcement of laws prohibiting sale of alcohol to minors, on the basis of sufficient evidence of effectiveness in limiting underage alcohol purchases. Further research will be required to assess the degree to which these changes in retailer behavior affect underage drinking.

Results from the Systematic Review

Eight studies met the criteria for inclusion in the review.

  • Enhanced enforcement programs were effective in reducing retail sales of alcohol to minors.
  • All of the studies evaluated the percentage of purchase attempts by underage or youthful-looking decoys that resulted in sales. Some studies also assessed rates of underage drinking.
  • Sales to decoys: median decrease of 42% (interquartile interval: -57% to -17%; 8 studies)
  • Three studies found that enhanced enforcement programs were associated with modest decreases in underage alcohol consumption, but this effect was directly attributable to enhanced enforcement in only one study.
  • Enhanced enforcement programs were effective in on-premises (e.g., bars) and off-premises (e.g., liquor stores) establishments, as well as in rural and urban communities, and among different ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

These results were based on a systematic review of all available studies, conducted on behalf of the Task Force by a team of specialists in systematic review methods, and in research, practice and policy related to excessive alcohol consumption.

Supporting Materials


Elder RW, Lawrence B, Janes G, Brewer RD, Toomey TL, Hingson RW, Naimi TS, Wing SG, Fielding J. Enhanced enforcement of laws prohibiting sale of alcohol to minors: systematic review of effectiveness for reducing sales and underage drinking. Transportation Research E-Circular 2007;Issue E-C123:181-8. (Access full text article from the issue, Traffic Safety and Alcohol Regulation: A Symposium) Adobe PDF File [PDF - 4.30 MB]

Read other Community Guide publications about Preventing Excessive Alcohol Consumption in our library.


The findings and conclusions on this page are those of the Community Preventive Services Task Force and do not necessarily represent those of CDC. Task Force evidence-based recommendations are not mandates for compliance or spending. Instead, they provide information and options for decision makers and stakeholders to consider when determining which programs, services, and policies best meet the needs, preferences, available resources, and constraints of their constituents.

Sample Citation

The content of publications of the Guide to Community Preventive Services is in the public domain. Citation as to source, however, is appreciated. Sample citation: Guide to Community Preventive Services. Preventing excessive alcohol consumption: enhanced enforcement of laws prohibiting sales to minors. Last updated: MM/DD/YYYY.

Review completed: February 2006