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South of the border: a legal haven for underage drinking


Robert B. Voas PhD Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation 11710 Beltsville Drive, Suite 300 Calverton, MD USA Tel: + 1 301 755 2700 Fax: + 1 301 755 2799 E-mail:


Aims The research describes the characteristics and motivations of youthful San Diego County residents who patronize the bars and nightclubs in Tijuana, Mexico.

Design Two random-digit-dial surveys of San Diego County residents—one group aged 18–20 years and one aged 21–30 years—was conducted during a 2-year period. Those who reported having visited the bars in Tijuana in the last year were compared with those who had not.

Setting All respondents were residents of San Diego County, California, USA.

Participants The study comprised 2200 youths between 18 and 30 years of age.

Measurements The interview protocol included questions covering demographic characteristics, drinking and drug-use history, experience with Tijuana bars, and ratings of bar features in San Diego and Tijuana.

Findings About half of the 18–20-year-olds and a third of the 21–30-year-olds reported visiting bars in Tijuana at least once in the past 12 months. Race, age, gender, heavy drinking and drug-use history were significantly associated with visits to Tijuana bars. The price of alcohol and the perceived freedom to get drunk in Tijuana bars were considered attractive features leading to cross-border drinking.

Conclusions The features of the alcohol service in Mexican bars that attract youthful drinkers (low cost and liberal availability of alcohol, lack of formal controls, and presence of heavy drinkers) are similar to those present in other drinking locales that lead to drunkenness. Thus, a better understanding of the characteristics and motivations of the US youths patronizing bars in Tijuana can lead to improved interventions to reduce heavy, risky drinking.