I don't know who makes me angrier, the shills at the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) who are just doing their job, or the lazy so-called journalists who blithely report the WSWA's propaganda as "news" without any context, balance, or skepticism. Today's installment:
Under the astonishing headline Point, Click, Drink - It's that easy for teens, Reuters provides a story sure to terrify us. For a minute, I thought I was watching local TV news during sweeps. Here's the story (which is written without a by-line, perhaps because they simply republished the WSWA press release):
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The Internet is providing a new avenue for underage drinking. Results of a new survey confirm that millions of teenagers either buy alcohol online or know an underage friend who does.
A related audit of states shows that many state legislators are easing restrictions on online alcohol sales with little monitoring or oversight.
"This is a dangerous situation," said Stan Hastings chairman of the Wine and Spirits Wholesales of America, Inc. (WSWA), the trade group that commissioned the survey.
"For the first time, we have hard evidence that millions of kids are buying alcohol online and that the Internet is fast becoming a high-tech, low-risk way for kids to get beer, wine and liquor delivered to their home with no ID check," Hastings said in a statement.
The survey results are "alarming," he added, "because state legislators are rushing to allow wine and other online alcohol sales at a time we know regulatory agencies are telling us they are unable to monitor these types of sales because they lack manpower and resources.
Conducted in 2006 by Teenage Research Unlimited, the survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,001 young people between the ages of 14 and 20 years revealed that 2 percent (representing 551,000 nationally) reported having personally bought alcohol online.
Moreover, 12 percent, equivalent to 3.1 million minors, report having a friend who has ordered alcohol online.
The survey also shows that alcohol purchased online is shared among friends. Roughly 3 percent of 14- to 20-year-olds (equivalent to 735,000 nationally) admit to drinking alcohol purchased by someone else online or by phone.
Now, let's put this all into context. Any reasonable journalist (or moderately inquisitive person) would say "two percent, compared to what? How many teens buy alcohol illegally at stores, say, with a fake ID?
Happily, through the magic of Google, I could find the answer to that question in under thirty seconds. 7%, according to this survey. A survey, by the way, sponsored by beverage retailers, who had an incentive to see as low a number as possible:
The survey indicated only seven percent purchase alcohol themselves illegally from retailers. Based on the recent survey data stating that 65 pecent of youth who drink obtain alcohol from their family and friends...
Now, admittedly, that is seven percent of teenage drinkers, not seven percent of all teens. But given that over 40% of ninth graders drink, and 11% of alcohol consumed in the US is consumed by underage drinkers, any kind of balanced report would still indicate that online purchases are a tiny sliver of the underage alcohol access pie.
Since the WSWA members have a legislated monopoly on wine sold through the retail channel, they fight tooth and nail against online sales that cut out the middleman (wholesaler). But as someone who gets wine delivered regularly, I can attest that the fedex or UPS guy won't ever deliver to a minor - even our 20-year-old babysitter - and won't leave the wine on the doorstep or at a neighbor's. Thanks to the WSWA's efforts, these companies have been sued often enough that the drivers are very, very well trained - and far more vigilant than the clerks at the corner store.
Besides, teens are way, way too impatient to get their wine over the web, and to wait the days or even weeks it takes to arrive. The corner store is far too convenient. If the WSWA really wanted to "protect our children, they would shut down the retail channel - where fake id's are frequently used and where the majority of the alcohol provide by "friends and family" is purchased - is shut down. But that wouldn't make them money...