Underage test purchase operations have "served their purpose" and a more "holistic" strategy is needed to tackle child drinking.
So says a new academic report on the effectiveness of test purchasing from Linda Macchia, a JD Wetherspoon staff member, for her BSC in leisure retail management.
The report says a decline in test-purchase failure rates has been accompanied by a rise in the proportion of
children drinking outside — from 16% in 2005 to 25% in 2009 — suggesting other solutions should be applied.
To highlight this, a survey by Asda in 2010 found 78% of underage drinkers had been supplied by their parents.
The report points to
several studies questioning the effectiveness of sting operations in isolation.
For example, a scheme piloted by the Scottish Government found it had "limited impact at best", with failure rates actually rising as time went on. Studies in the US have shown that while test purchases have an initial impact on failure rates, this wears off and is most effective when combined with training. The report questions the need to increase the volume of test-purchase operations at a time when failure rates are falling.
And it argues the severity of penalties for persistent underage sales is "unethical" because it doesn't actually cut child drinking. The effectiveness of the punitive approach appears to have "plateaued", the report says.
The report concludes: "There can be no argument that action is required to prevent underage drinking.
"However, the reasons why children drink are many and complex. Therefore, an argument can be made that
primarily focusing on an increasingly punitive test-purchasing strategy is not the most effective way to achieve this.
"A more holistic strategy could prove to be a more effective way to achieve the objective of protecting children from harm."