Minors’ boozing aided largely by young males

The study employed a 'shoulder-tapping' method to find willing alcohol buyers.

Kelly Gulbrandson

As the summer party season begins, some underage students are finding ways to obtain alcohol.

A study released last week by the School of Public Health reported that nearly 20 percent of young adult males are willing to buy alcohol for minors.

Traci Toomey, lead author of the study and associate professor of epidemiology and community health, conducted the study as a way to help lower the rates of underage alcohol use.

“Our first goal is to stop places from selling alcohol to underage people,” Toomey said.

The study, conducted from June 2005 to October 2005, had a few surprising results, she said.

The rate at which men were successfully “shoulder-tapped” – the practice of approaching strangers outside of liquor stores and asking them to purchase alcohol – was much higher than that for women.

Additionally, the underage students were more likely to approach younger, casually dressed men who would seem more open to buying them alcohol.

Biology graduate student Todd Knutson said in addition to obtaining alcohol from older friends and family members when he was underage, he also shoulder-tapped.

“When I would approach someone in the parking lot, it would be successful about 80 percent of the time,” he said.

Knutson said he does not believe underage drinking is a problem at the University, and said he has not been approached by a random person in a liquor store parking lot since he turned 21.

Recent biochemistry graduate Brian Engel said he does not believe underage drinking at the University will stop.

“Drinking is a part of life and is going to happen,” he said. “People just have to be educated on ways to make smart decisions and not participate in binge drinking.”

Engel said he has not been approached by anyone in a liquor store parking lot, but has bought alcohol for underage friends.

He said he relied on his older friends to buy alcohol for him before he turned 21.

Dan Erickson, manager of Dinkytown Wine and Spirits, said having people lingering in the parking lot happens sometimes, but not often.

“If a customer comes into the store and says someone approached them in the parking lot asking them to buy liquor for them, I go out into the parking lot and tell them to leave,” Erickson said.

All employees of the store take alcohol awareness training to see how to spot fake IDs. The store also has a scanning machine for IDs to check validity.

If an employee spots a fake, it is confiscated and kept in a lock box. The customer is also refused service. Erickson said his store has obtained a handful of fake IDs in the past two weeks.

Police come in every few weeks to observe patterns – like a lot of IDs coming from the same state, such as North Dakota or California – and to take the fake IDs, Erickson said.

He said his store has a reputation of being hard on underage drinking.

Dave Golden, director of marketing for Boynton Health Service, said there has been a 6 percent increase in on-campus underage drinking since 1992.

If a student receives a minor consumption ticket or is concerned about his or her drinking, Boynton Health Service offers a DWI and alcohol awareness class, said Mary Roske-Groth, a clinical social worker who teaches the class.

She said those who receive a DWI or minor consumption ticket can take the class in lieu of paying the ticket’s fine.

Roske-Groth has noticed an increase in participants for the three-and-a-half hour class.

“The class is supposed to be limited to 10 students, but I have been opening it up to 12 to 14 students recently,” she said.

The goal of the class is to increase the students’ insight and to lower the rate of future incidents, she said.

It also provides a chance for students to talk to other students about their experience. Roske-Groth said the most recent class in April was “odd” because usually two or three students have DWI or minor offenses, but this time nine of the students did.

Toomey said the results of her study show just one source of alcohol to minors, but does not cover the entire problem of underage drinking. She said people have to focus on the bigger problem.

“This is just one piece of the puzzle,” she said.