Teenagers and Alcohol

For generations, teenagers have tried every trick in the book to get their hands on alcohol before they are legally old enough to buy it. However, it’s getting more and more difficult to do so. This article looks at the legislation and what happens when a retailer sells alcohol to a minor.

It’s almost three years since the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 came into force with various provisions introduced on a transitional basis. It’s interesting to see how the case law has developed in this time. There’s no doubt that Parliament intended to give a mandate for a more vigorous approach when imposing penalties such as suspensions and cancellations.

Recent cases indicate that the Alcohol and Regulatory Licensing Authority is taking a hard-line approach on sales to minors.

It’s a serious offence

The sale of alcohol to minors is considered one of the most serious offences under the Act. Several supermarkets and bottle stores have had their licences suspended in the last few months. Most were the result of police ‘Controlled Purchase Operations’, more commonly known as ‘stings’.

In July 2015 the Authority suspended the off-licence held by Super Liquor Anderson’s Bay1 for 21 days following an incident in October 2014 when two 16-year-olds purchased a four-pack of RTDs. They weren’t asked for identification.

The company has paid a heavy price for a staff member’s mistake. While a supermarket subject to a ban on alcohol sales can still trade, there’s little point in a bottle store opening its doors to only sell products such as chippies and cigarettes.

The Authority held that while there had been no previous sales to minors at Super Liquor Anderson’s Bay, the company held other licences and had failed five previous stings in the Dunedin area between 2007 and 2014. Meanwhile in August 2015 the Kilbirnie Pak’nSave2 in Wellington was banned from selling alcohol for five days. Two 16-year-olds had purchased alcohol despite showing the staff legitimate passports that showed they were under age. The checkout operator concerned has since been dismissed from employment. In September 2015 three Auckland Countdown supermarkets, in Sylvia Park, St Johns and Mt Roskill were banned from selling alcohol for between three and five days3.

Important to check ID

In two of the Countdown stings the underage teenagers had handed over identification. The staff checked the identification but the sale was completed anyway allowing a 17-year-old to buy a $10 bottle of wine and a 16-year-old to buy a four-pack of cider. The Authority has been critical of the Countdown chain for what it considered to be systemic issues in Countdown’s operations.

These businesses face a heavy penalty for what are simple mistakes. Staff members get tired or distracted and simply forget the most basic of tasks. It is equally simple to avoid this mistake. Thorough checking of identification and robust staff training is essential. Some employers have been known to include provisions in their employment contracts that provide disciplinary action should the liquor legislation be breached.

The 2012 Act also introduced new provisions in respect of what is known in the industry as a ‘holding’. If a licensee has three holdings (breaches) within three years, the police must apply for cancellation of the licence. There’s no discretion.

The last year has also seen an increase in penalties for managers’ certificates. For those whose livelihood is as a bar or bottle store manager, this is at risk if a certificate is suspended. This may be the case when it’s not even the manager who carries out the sale. Managers are responsible for the actions of their staff and will be penalised. Staff members can also be prosecuted.

When the 2012 legislation had its first reading in Parliament, the Minister of Justice said:

"This is a large Bill, but its objects are simple. It zeros in on alcohol-related harm, crime, disorder and public health problems, especially where our young people are concerned"

The Authority is clearly doing all it can to achieve these objects. There’s no doubt that the Authority wants to hammer the message home – sales to minors are unacceptable.

1 McCarthy Enterprises Limited [2015] NZARLA 466–467

2 Galt’s Supermarket Limited [2015] NZARLA 365–366

3 General Distributors Limited [2015] NZARLA 503–508

Posted: Thu 17 Dec 2015

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