- Lauri Beekmann
In Estonia, every second youth obtains alcoholic beverages without proving their age
18.05.2023 - A study conducted by The National Institute for Health Development (TAI) in 2022 showed that in less than half of the sales outlets, young people intending to buy alcohol were asked for identification. Generally, every second youth can get an alcoholic beverage without showing an age-proofing document. Small stores, rural areas, and older service personnel were seen as problematic, as well as self-service checkouts in large stores during the alcohol test purchasing research.
A total of 459 test purchases were made in regular checkouts for alcoholic beverages, 230 in retail trade, and 229 in catering establishments. For the entire sample of test purchases made in regular checkouts for alcoholic beverages, the document was requested less than half the time – 46%. The document request level in the comparison between retail trade and catering establishments did not significantly differ (respectively 47% and 49%). Within the four types of retail trade, the document request level was similar. The document was asked a bit more in large stores (58%) and a bit less in small and medium stores (both 40%). Notification signs about age restrictions for sale were most rarely present in small stores (25%), most often in large stores (62%). In catering establishments, notification signs were significantly less visible than in retail trade (3% vs 48%).
In a gender comparison, the availability of alcohol was similar to the previous study. Young men were still asked for a document more often than young women (57% vs 36%), and in the absence of a document, they were more often willing to sell to young men (16% vs 3%). For low-alcohol beverages, the document was asked significantly less often (41%), and the willingness to sell was much higher (69%) than for high-alcohol beverages (respectively 54% and 55%). According to the study coordinator, TAI senior specialist Triin Mäll, this is because high-alcohol beverages are still perceived as more dangerous than low-alcohol beverages.
It turned out that older service staff asked for the document significantly less often (32%) than younger (43%) or middle-aged service staff (52%). In rural areas, an age-proofing document was requested significantly less often than in cities (37% vs 48%, excluding the capital), and they were more willing to sell the product somewhat more often than in cities (63% vs 52%; excluding the capital).
Compared to 2019, the document request level has risen somewhat (41% vs 46%). The biggest change occurred in catering establishments, where in 2019 the document was requested in 38% of test purchases, and in 2022, 49% of test purchases. In retail trade, document requests have remained at the same level (44% vs 47%), but this has now been equalized between institutions. Compared to 2019, the situation has deteriorated in large stores (69% vs 58%). On the positive side, the level of document requests has improved in gas stations (48% vs 51%).
For the first time, test purchases of alcoholic beverages were carried out in large stores' self-service checkouts – a total of 30 test purchases. In self-service checkouts, documents were checked less often (30% vs 57%), and they were willing to sell alcohol significantly more often than in regular checkouts in large stores (90% vs 59%).
The study of alcohol test purchasing has been conducted six times since 2012. While in 2014 a personal identification document was requested in about a quarter of retail outlets, by 2016, a document was requested in almost half of the cases. A similar result has persisted with minor changes in subsequent study years. "Easy access to alcohol has remained unchanged in Estonia, and action in this direction is necessary. Although the law prohibits the sale of alcohol to minors, we do not have enough supportive activities and continuity in supervision," explained Anneli Sammel, head of the alcohol and tobacco sector at TAI.
The Police and Border Guard Board also emphasize that despite a slight improvement trend in the study results, alcohol is still available to young people. "Drinking alcohol at a young age significantly increases the risk of poisoning and addiction, but we also see in our work that drunkenness often involves both committing crimes and falling victim to them. It is very important that alcohol sellers understand that they have been entrusted with great responsibility," said Tarvo Kruup, prefect of the Eastern Prefecture of the Police.
TAI and the Ministry of the Interior are starting to implement a new program funded by the European Social Fund, which has yielded good results in Sweden and is known as the STAD (Stockholm prevents alcohol and drug problems) project. This program involves organizing training for people dealing with alcohol sales to reduce alcohol availability to both minors and people showing signs of intoxication.
"Today we see that establishments dealing with alcohol sales lack both knowledge and skills needed to comply with the restrictions arising from the Alcohol Act. The aim of the new program is to increase the knowledge and skills of servers in responsible alcohol sales and serving, and to enhance cooperation for better supervision in municipalities," said Sammel.
The full STUDY