Beer keg ban would have little effect on underage drinkers

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 20, 2006

In yet another effort to combat underage drinking the Alabama legislature is considering a bill, which if passed, would outlaw the sale of beer kegs in the state.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro), passed the Senate 30-0 and now goes before the House of Representatives for consideration. The ban would halt the sale of beer in five gallon kegs or more to individual consumers, although the sale of draft beer in restaurants or taverns would be unaffected by the legislation.

The bill has the support of the Alabama Wholesale Beer Association but storeowners, who sell kegs and cater to students in college towns like Tuscaloosa and Auburn, are adamantly opposed to the legislation, which they say will have a significant negative impact on their bottom line. One dealer told the Montgomery Advertiser that he sells more than 60 kegs a week, but he always checks driver's licenses.

&#8220How does not selling kegs stop underage drinking?” M.S. Reddy told the Advertiser. &#8220What's the difference between a person buying a keg and 10 cases of beer?”

Undoubtedly, Singleton has the best interests of the youth of Alabama at heart, but a law banning beer keg sales would do little to curb underage drinking in the state. Since the drinking age was raised to 21 in the early 80s, teenagers have always found a way to sidestep the law in order to acquire beer, wine, or hard liquor. Either through a parent, an older acquaintance or a convenience store clerk who just doesn't care, the nation's youth continues its consumption of alcohol illegally.

The Mobile Register reported that a recent federal government study found that among those 21 and older who were admitted to dependence or abuse programs in 2002, 88 percent were first intoxicated before age 21. An Alabama government survey earlier this decade found that 76 percent of 12th-grade public school students in the state reported use of alcohol sometime during their lives.

What Singleton's legislation potentially would do is drain income from the pockets of some business owners who sell kegs. Granted, some business owners have the potential to gain from passage of the law as, we presume, people would simply buy beer in smaller containers. That generally equates to a higher profit margin for retailers than bulk keg beer sales do.

What this legislation wouldn't do is completely eradicate the problem of underage drinking, a problem that will continue to plague parents and law enforcement until our youth's public perception of drinking changes, something the legislature cannot control.