New European overview shows that alcohol age limit of 18 is widely accepted, but lacks compliance in many countries

30 October 2013

Good practices to increase compliance are available, though scattered throughout Europe

At the request of the European Commission the Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy (STAP) conducted a European study on the age limit policies for alcohol. The study focussed on legislation, enforcement and research on age limits for alcohol within the European Member States (+Switzerland and Norway). Recently, the result of this study, called ‘Eyes on Ages’ was published (1,2). The study showed that 18 years is a widely accepted age limit for alcohol in Europe. However, the compliance with the legal age limit is a problem in many Member States. The compliance rates vary between 0% and 93%. One of the most effective instruments to increase compliance is organised and regular enforcement, which seems to be lacking in countries experiencing problems with compliance. The study shows that setting a legal age limit for alcohol is one thing, but effectively enforcing it is another aspect of making alcohol less available for minors.

Share good practices and strategies

The European study ‘Eyes on Ages’ found many good practices and strategies in Europe to reduce the availability of alcohol for minors. These practices, however, are not united in one effective age limit policy, but are scattered throughout Europe. The Swedish STAD project, for example, showed that enhanced enforcement, training for bar personnel and creating public support can lead to a compliance level of 93%. Besides this evidence based multi-component program other good practices are available in Europe: a legal requirement to check the ID of a customer, a reference age of 25 years for checking ID, a ban on selling alcohol through internet and using mystery shoppers for enforcement purposes are examples of these practices. This study shows that every European country can find new good practices and strategies to adopt in their own age limit policy. Now, more research and exchanging knowledge is needed to make these practices and strategies visible.

Using mystery shoppers as an effective strategy to enforce age limits

One of the good practices named above is using mystery shoppers for enforcement purposes. Many European countries have experience in using mystery shoppers to evaluate the compliance of sellers of alcohol. Only 6 countries are legally allowed to impose fines after a successful test purchase by a mystery shopper. In the other countries this is seen as entrapment and therefore illegal. In a German region called Osnabrück the compliance increased after using this strategy. Furthermore, British research shows that using mystery shoppers in the enforcement can lead to increased compliance levels up to 80% (3,4).
Wim van Dalen, director of the Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy (STAP): “The effectiveness of enforcing the age limits for alcohol will increase rapidly when enforcement officers are able to use mystery shoppers during their inspections. Unfortunately, this is still illegal in many European countries”.

European Network on Alcohol Law Enforcement

An already existing network on this topic is the European Network on Alcohol Law Enforcement, the so-called ENALE network. The network organises conferences annually for European experts in the field of alcohol law enforcement and prevention. In the spring of 2014 a new ‘ENALE conference’ will be held in Tallinn (Estonia). During this conference one of the main focusses will be exchanging good practices and strategies between enforcement experts of different countries.

More information:

Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy (STAP)
Ir. Wim van Dalen, director
Jeroen de Greeff MSc, researcher
T +31 (0)30-6565041 / +31 (0)6-53295544

1. Eyes on Ages; A research on alcohol age limit policies in European Member States. Legislation, enforcement and research; Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy (STAP) Utrecht; The Netherlands (2013).
2. Case Study Report; Good practices to enhance the compliance with minimum age limits for selling and serving alcoholic beverages in EU Member States; Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy (STAP); Utrecht The Netherlands (2013). link to Case Study Report
3. Willner, P, Binmore, J., Cavendish, M., Dunphy, E., & Hart, K. (2000) Alcohol sales to underage adolescents: An unobstrusive observational field study and evaluation of a police intervention. Addiction 95, 1373-1388.
4. Two of the many examples of increased compliance:
City and County of Swansea, 2010. Under 18s sold alcohol in test purchasing exercise.
Newcastle City Council, 2012. Test purchasing.

eyes-on-ages_report_en_2.pdfeyes-on-ages_report_en_2.pdf (2,77 MB)


Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy STAP
P.O. Box 9769
3506 GT Utrecht
The Netherlands
T: +31 (0)30-6565041
F: +31 (0)30-6565043