Editorial: Underage drinking frightening

By Andrew Austin

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How often have you thought someone was in their 20s when in reality they were only about 16-years-old?

These days the pressure is on for boys and girls to look and act older than the date on their birth certificate. Television, magazines and clothing stores push the need to act grown up all the time. In my day, most teenagers looked like teenagers, but today anything goes.

This must make it rather tricky for retailers when teenagers try to buy alcohol from them.

Well, for eight out of 19 alcohol retailers in the greater Napier and Hastings areas Friday and Saturday nights were not good nights to make that mistake. These retailers were caught selling liquor to under-age actors as part of a controlled purchase operation by the police, local councils and the Hawke's Bay District Health Board.

You have to have some sympathy for retailers, especially the big ones, because all it takes is for one manager or staff member not to be concentrating and a minor can take the gap and purchase alcohol.

Having said that, any retailer who sells alcohol knows the rules and more importantly knows the penalties.

And those penalties would sting even the biggest retailer in town. The fine can be up to $10,000 for licence holders, and the suspension of a licence up to seven days, or both. A manager can be fined up to $10,000 and have their certificate suspended or cancelled, and staff can also be fined up to $2000.

Because the risks are so great, retailers need to take care and ensure that minors do not buy alcohol from their shops. Not only should they be worried about the consequences for their own stores, but they also have a moral and social responsibility to make sure our teenagers do not have easy access to alcohol.

Obviously the responsibility starts with the parents, but if the parents don't know what is happening or don't care then unfortunately it becomes society's problem. Drunken teenagers hooning around the streets with a box of beer from the supermarket has the potential to affect all of us.

Some people may disapprove of the authorities colluding to catch retailers by sending in actors. I disagree. If that is the only way to get the message across, then I am all for it. What is concerning is that the authorities say the results were "scary", and the worst in a long time.

What chance do we have of stopping, or more realistically curbing, teenage drinking if retailers just hand over the alcohol without thought?

Hopefully this little sting will make them put more robust systems in place.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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