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Everyone of us with a vested interest in the liquor field wants to decrease as close as possible to zero, underage drinking. It is an important regulatory concern that every policy decision should take into account.

Recently, influenced by a rapid increase from DTC shipping due to COVID, there comes momentum to increase the number of markets where consumers can obtain spirits via DTC shipping.

On the heels of the beginning of the legislative season, comes the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) delivering a message that “American Mothers Believe DTC Spirits Shipping Will Increase Underage Access.”

This is based on a survey WSWA ran with Morning Consult, where it determined that 72% of American mothers expressed concern that the DTC shipping of spirits across state lines will increase underage access to alcohol.

I guess it should not come as a surprise that a survey run and paid for by WSWA would yield the results they desire, and that the questions designed got the answers WSWA wanted.

Of course, the survey results will be trumpeted out to every legislative hearing considering DTC shipping of spirits, and treated as gospel instead of a one-sided biased study.

What WSWA may also want to ask is if mothers are concerned about underage drinking in college? According to Public Action Management, PLC CEO Pam Erickson, the Texas Alcohol Beverage Control agency checked over 1,000 retailers to ensure they weren’t selling to minors and 14% failed compliance checks. That is right, 140 retailers failed proper age verification tests. And to make matters worse in Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of the University of Michigan, an investigation found that only half of off-premise retailers passed age verification compliance checks.

What do these retailers have in common, they all purchase their product through the in-state three-tier system. If we are serious about tackling underage access to alcohol, what is the solution, should we get rid of all brick-and-mortar retailers and bars because of these abysmal failure rates, or should we address the serious concerns and come up with solutions? I prefer the latter.

What is missing from WSWA’s study is any comprehensive study of age verification failure rates for the shipping of spirits. But let’s be honest, even a single isolated age verification failure by a DTC spirits shipper, and WSWA would make a federal crime out of the issue, but somehow distinct in-state retailer failure rates in a college town are not mentioned.

Underage access to alcohol is a serious issue and should be addressed with solutions. Instead, this study plays up the potential in a certain marketplace with little to no evidence of the problem existing in great numbers.

The purpose of the study is to wave a red herring at a legislative hearing in order to defeat DTC spirits shipping bills.

It would be unfortunate if expanding access to consumers and expanding markets for especially small producers is quashed based on this study. Especially when this study does not provide evidence of a widespread problem.

The liquor industry needs to come together for solutions to problems like underage access to alcohol. Fighting underage access to alcohol does not succeed by closing off markets, it never has. Nor will it succeed by prohibiting access to markets. But state legislatures need to be aware, the headlines may be glossy, but the headlines don’t provide solutions to the real problems.