Background: Underage youth often obtain alcohol from adults who illegally provide the alcohol. One method for obtaining alcohol from adults is shoulder tapping, where youth approach an adult outside an alcohol establishment and ask the adult to purchase alcohol for them. The goal of this study was to assess what percentage of the general and youth-targeted adult population approached outside of a convenience/liquor store will agree to purchase and then provide alcohol to individuals who appear under age 21.
Methods: We conducted 2 waves of pseudo-underage shoulder tap request attempts, using requesters who were age 21 or older but appeared 18 to 20 years old. In both waves, requests were conducted at randomly selected liquor and convenience stores, requesters explained that the reason they were asking the adult was because they did not have their identification with them, and requesters asked the adults to purchase a 6-pack of beer. During wave 1, we conducted 102 attempts, with the requester approaching the first adult entering the store alone. During wave 2, we conducted 102 attempts where the requester approached the first casually dressed male entering the store alone who appeared to be 21 to 30 years old.
Results: During wave 1, 8% of the general sample of approached adults provided alcohol to the pseudo-underage requesters. The odds of adults providing alcohol in urban areas were 9.4 times greater than in suburban areas. During wave 2, 19% of the approached young men provided alcohol to the requesters. No requester, request attempt, establishment, or community characteristics were associated with request attempt outcomes during wave 2.
Conclusions: A small percentage of the general population of adults will agree to provide alcohol to underage youth when approached outside an alcohol establishment. The likelihood of underage youth obtaining alcohol through shoulder tapping increases substantially if the youth approach young men.