“Reward and Reminder” initiative seeks to reduce underage drinking

Coalition reveals alcohol retail compliance check results

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Since 2015, Bartow Against Drugs (BAD) — previously known as the Coalition to Prevent the Misuse of Alcohol — has conducted a unique retail compliance check program throughout the county.

“The concept is to find ‘youthful’ adults, 21 or older, and have them attempt to purchase alcohol,” said BAD program director Scott Sherwin. “If they were not asked for their ID, then the clerk would be given a reminder card, which simply states the law surrounding ID checks and reminds them to ask for identification before making a sale.”

Under the program, which is modeled after Montana’s “Reward and Reminder” initiative, BAD surveyors — all of whom are above the legal drinking age — are sent to various retailers within Bartow.

“BAD wanted to find out if it was easy or difficult for youth to purchase from our local retailers,” Sherwin said. “If they were asked for their ID, then they would hand the clerk a reward card, thanking them for doing the right thing.”

Over the last year, BAD has conducted several rounds of compliance checks at nearly 30 different retailers in the county. The findings are mixed; while some retailers “passed” all seven checks from January 2018 to February 2019, several others “failed” the checks multiple times. 

Among the retailers posting 100 percent passing rates included Toad’s Beverage Co. and Royal Spirits in the City of Cartersville and county convenience stores Lakeside Crossing in Acworth and the Texaco gas station at Cass-White Road.

Conversely, retailers such as the Citgo Express on Tennessee Street, Jo-Jo’s Market in Euharlee and the Chevron Food Mart along Highway 411 in White all “failed” at least three compliance checks over the past year. 

While Georgia law imposes stiff penalties on retailers who sell alcohol to individuals under the age of 21 — including up to a $1,000 fine and 12 months in jail — Sherwin noted that there are no penalties or fines that can be levied against retailers who fail to check the IDs of customers who are over the age of 21.

“After reviewing the numbers, the only statistic that stands out is how few retailers pass the compliance check at 100 percent — there are only two in the city limits and two in the county,” he said. “They prove that it is possible to have a policy in place of asking IDs of anyone who looks to be underage.”

According to press materials from Sherwin’s organization, the local “Reward and Reminder” program is the end result of “considerable study of human behavior” and may indeed be a more effective deterrent to underage sales than imposing fines and other sanctions against retailers. 

“The studies show that public recognition and reward of good behavior by stores and clerks for doing the right thing and not selling alcohol to minors reduces illegal sales of alcohol to minors faster than enforcement, which is then saved for people who are really intent on breaking the law,” the nonprofit organization states. 

On the national level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 4,300 minor deaths are attributed to excessive drinking each year, with underage drinking resulting in approximately 119,000 emergency room visits in 2013 alone.

Locally, Sherwin said underage drinking remains a serious concern. 

“BAD works in partnership with both the City of Cartersville Police and the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office [and] we provide them our compliance results so they can make decisions on where they may need to focus additional attention,” he said. “If we can eliminate one source of the alcohol, illegal purchase by minors, then it is a start to reducing those numbers.”