Low compliance rates of legal age limits in the Netherlands

16 December 2010

Survey of research data of 79 municipalities in 2009 and 2010

Mystery-shop research
In 2006 the Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy (STAP) and the Twente University (UT) started to observe the compliance with the age-limits for selling alcohol. This mostly happened by order of regions and municipalities. STAP and the UT used for this the so-called mystery-shop method. This implies that 15 year old youngsters try to purchase a mildly alcoholic drink according to a strict protocol. In contrast to methods of self-reporting, this method gives a reliable picture of the compliance with the age-limits in supermarkets, liquor stores , bars, restaurants and sports canteens.

Research in 79 municipalities
Since 2006 several observance-studies have been carried out by order of municipalities and regions. In this article the results are represented of the studies carried out in 2009 and 2010 in 79 municipalities.

Conclusion: on average nearly 3 out of 4 purchase attempts were successful
The conclusion of this summarizing survey is that the compliance rate of the age-limits for purchasing alcohol is low. In 2009 and 2010 in total 1397 buying efforts were being performed by 15 year old boys and girls. In nearly 3 out of 4 efforts they succeeded to get alcohol in Dutch supermarkets, liquor stores and bars (see also table 1). Bars show the worst results in comparison with other types of selling points and the liquor shops relatively show the best results. From the several compliance investigations it appears that in liquor stores also more often inquiries are being made for the age and/or the identity of the mystery shopper. Besides the visits to supermarkets, liquor stores and bars research is also carried out in sporting canteens, youth centres and snack shops.

Decentralization of enforcement
If a municipality or region becomes responsible for enforcing the compliance with the age-limits, the number of controls will increase and consequently the compliance will improve. The Food and Consumer Safety Authority at this moment has at its disposal too little capacity to sufficiently control in all Dutch municipalities the compliance with the age-limits. From research it appears that selling-points must be checked at least 4 times per year in order to motivate them to comply better with the legal age-limits 1). Also new techniques of age-control at the pay desk can be set in.

Further analysis
In spite of this detailed overview of data more analysis are desirable. At this moment the Twente University and STAP are working at an overview of all compliance visits with also attention to the impact of other possible variables such as effect of campaigns and characteristics of selling-points (for instance: busyness or day of purchase). It is also recommendable to organize a nationwide representative measurement in order to get a clear and reliable image of a national compliance rate in the Netherlands.

More information:

Twente University
Dr. Joris van Hoof, researcher (06-13495357)

Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy (STAP)
Fieke Franken Mcs, researcher (030-6565041)
Ir. W.E. van Dalen, director (06-53295544).

1) Wagenaar, A. C., Toomey, T.L & Erickson, D.J. (2005). Complying With the Minimum Drinking Age: Effects of Enforcement and Training interventions. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 29,2,255-262.

table-1.doctable-1.doc (29,5 kB)


Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy STAP
P.O. Box 9769
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The Netherlands
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