An operation by law enforcement officials this week determined that out of 18 Albany and Dougherty County stores checked, 11 of them — more than 60 percent — sold alcoholic beverages to underage buyers.
That’s about double the percentage that sold to underage buyers a few years ago when a similar undercover compliance check was performed.
As a result, the stores in question and the people who sold the alcohol are facing possible charges.
We have heard plenty of excuses for this type of illegal activity over the years, from the idea that underage drinking is something that should be winked at because “we all did it” years ago to assertions that law enforcement agencies use underage purchasers who appear to be 21 years old or older.
Neither excuse is justification for breaking the law.
Meanwhile, complying with the law is simple. The clerk asks to see a valid ID. If the purchaser can show he or she is 21, fine. If not — or if the buyer “forgot” his or her driver’s license — the clerk doesn’t sell the beverages.
It is exactly that easy.
To be clear, this operation is not a case in which law enforcement officials are picking on a business that may be struggling. Far from it. Cracking down on locations that are willing to provide alcohol to minors is helping ensure that those minors don’t make bad decisions that are fueled by the illegal purchases. Granted, there is nothing “magic” about turning 21 that suddenly enables a person to better handle the consumption of alcohol than a 20-year-old individual might. But there has to be a cut-off age somewhere, and the state of Georgia has determined that it is 21. The owners of the businesses found to be in violation and the people who work for them know that, and they know what the possible consequences for violations of the law are.
More importantly, underage drinking has tremendous consequences for the youths and teens who engage in it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that alcohol is the most commonly abused substance by those under 21, surpassing tobacco and illegal drugs. The CDC also says that alcohol contributes to the deaths of 4,700 underage Americans each year.
Even though it is illegal, 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States in a given year is consumed by young people ages 12-20, and the vast majority of that underage drinking — 90 percent — is the most dangerous consumption of all, binge drinking.
In 2010 alone, there were 189,000 emergency room visits in the United States by people under 21 who had injuries or medical conditions tied to the illegal consumption of alcohol.
Risks that the CDC says underage drinkers face include problems at school, including excessive absences and failing grades; social problems, such as fighting and lack of participation in youth activities; legal issues, such as arrest for driving or physically hurting someone while drunk; physical problems, such as hangovers or illnesses; unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity; disruption of normal growth and sexual development; physical and sexual assault; higher risks for suicide and homicide; risks of alcohol-related car crashes and other unintentional injuries, such as burns, falls, and drowning; memory problems; abuse of other drugs; changes in brain development that may have life-long effects, and death from alcohol poisoning.
We commend local law enforcement and District Attorney Greg Edwards for tackling this issue in Albany. Merchants who sell alcohol to underage buyers are preying on our children and youths, and that should not be tolerated.