The merchants, not the customers: resisting the alcohol and tobacco industries' strategy to blame young people for illegal alcohol and tobacco sales

J Public Health Policy. 1995;16(4):412-32.


Reducing access of alcohol and tobacco to young people constitutes a pressing public health policy agenda. Research has established that alcohol and tobacco are readily available to young people and that early use of these products increases both short term and long term health problems. Research also shows that the most effective way to reduce underage access is to implement merchant compliance programs as part of a comprehensive prevention strategy. Successful merchant compliance programs involve the use of young people who attempt to purchase alcohol or tobacco from merchants. These attempted purchases should be conducted on a routine basis and should result in increasingly severe fines and civil penalties against merchants who violate the law. This article reviews the research outlined above and documents the industries' efforts to redirect public policy to blame the young person rather than the merchant for the problem of youth access to alcohol and tobacco. The industry is using several tactics to reach this goal. The article concludes with a nine point proposal for reducing youth access, outlining the key elements of a merchant compliance program, and presenting other essential components of a community-based, comprehensive strategy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Alcoholic Beverages*
  • Commerce / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Nicotiana*
  • Plants, Toxic*
  • Public Health / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Public Policy*
  • Social Responsibility*
  • United States