The internet is making it easier for your underage students to buy beer, wine, and liquor online, a new organization has charged.
“First it was cyberporn, and now it’s cyberbooze,” said a group called Americans for Responsible Alcohol Access (AARA). “It’s growing as fast as direct shippers can set up internet home pages and toll-free phone numbers.”
On the web, you can find dozens of companies offering mail-order beer, wine, and liquor. The companies have such names as Ale in the Mail, Vintage Cellar Online, and Beer Across America. Their online advertisements and order forms insist that buyers must be at least 21, but the AARA claims it has found several instances where shippers simply get a signature without verifying that the customer is of age.
During a press conference late last year, New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco unveiled a video of a sting his office conducted to show how easy it was for a minor to order alcohol over the internet.
Responded Louis Amoroso, president of Beer Across America: “We have never had a problem with someone under 21 getting their hands on our product.”
Amoroso said companies like his generally require a credit card to purchase alcohol onlinesomething he insisted few high school students have. He also said delivery personnel demand a valid driver’s license as proof of age when the shipment arrives at its destination.
Jim Lowe, a spokesman for Hogshead Beer Cellars, a beer-of-the-month club that sells its products online, pointed to other factors when dismissing the fears of the AARA. Lowe said online liquor companies generally sell pricier brands, not the stuff teens normally can afford.
“We charge $27 for two six-packs of beer,” he said. “If an 18-year-old’s got $27 burning a hole in his pocket, he’s going to give it to an older brother to buy three or four cases of cheap beer.” Besides, he added, teens are “certainly not going to do what we requirewhich is to wait a few weeks for it.”
Lowe and other online liquor suppliers noted that the AARA is backed by their competitors, the Wine and Spirit Wholesalers of America. The whole cyberbooze controversy, they claimed, is simply an attempt by liquor wholesalers to put mail-order competitors out of business. A representative of AARA acknowledged its effort is largely funded by liquor wholesalers, adding that it also is supported by “safety-minded organizations.”
Washington lobbyist Barry McCahill, the group’s director, declined to be interviewed.
Some statesincluding Kentucky, Georgia, and Floridahave made direct shipment of alcohol a felony. Besides making it easier for teens to buy alcohol, some officials claimed, online sales cost states millions of dollars in lost tax revenue.
That’s precisely the point, according to John Hinman, a San Francisco attorney who represents many brewers of specialty beers: “The whole issue is economic protection of the monopoly system of alcohol distribution that exists in this country.”