Underage alcohol and tobacco use is costing US families and communities dearly, and the finger of blame has often been pointed at retailers whisky online store accused of lax age enforcement and sales policies. Now a group of retailers is doing what few expected – “giving the finger” to underage alcohol and tobacco use by verifying that every customer purchasing alcohol or tobacco, regardless of appearance, does in fact meet age requirements.
They’re doing this with the blessings of their customers and community, and have actually sped checkout times up to six-fold, using a new biometric fingerprint ID technology that promises to change the way alcohol and tobacco is sold from coast to coast.The High Cost of Underage Alcohol and Tobacco AbuseDespite all 50 States restricting the sale of alcohol and tobacco to those over 21 and 18, respectively, violations have been frequent and the results tragic.
Not only does underage drinking cost society $53 billion annually, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated 4,554 annual underage deaths due to excessive alcohol use in a 2004 report. On college campuses 95 percent of all violent crime and 90 percent of college rapes involve the use of alcohol by the assailant, victim, or both, according to a 2004 report from The National Academies.
Tobacco use by minors also has dire consequences, even though underage alcohol abuse captures more headlines. According to a 2004 CDC fact sheet, about 4,000 US youths aged 12-17 try their first cigarette each day, and “if current patterns of smoking behaviors continue, an estimated 6.4 million of today’s children can be expected to die prematurely from a smoking-related disease.”
Retailers are often blamed for underage alcohol and tobacco use. They’re targeted in undercover “sting” operations for selling to minors, fined, even suffer license suspension or revocation. But truth be told, few intentionally sell to minors. Most have unwittingly been the victim of counterfeit IDs, employee error, or periods of customer overflow.
Take Terry’s Liquor, for instance. The Alamosa, Colorado liquor store inadvertently sold alcohol to an undercover sting operative within days of her 21st birthday, on her fourth trip to store, after she’d chatted up the newest clerk. The result: a three-day shutdown that cost the store $34,000 in sales, for a first offense in three years under Bob Zenner’s ownership.
“We’d passed every compliance check and collected a shoebox full of fake IDs,” says Zenner. “The problem is, to be customer friendly you must give employees some discretion in carding, and that leads to infractions. It doesn’t matter how good your employees are. They all make an occasional mistake, especially when things get busy.”
To better protect the community and avoid future “selling to minor” infractions, Zenner and an independent group of 20 stores known as the San Luis Valley Alcohol Retailers Alliance approached Blanca Peak Technologies, a security systems/risk assessment company in Blanca, Colorado, for help. Kelly Gerards, a partner at Blanca Peak, scoured the Internet for a means to balance security, privacy, and efficiency. He found FSS, a biometric fingerprint identification system provider based in Altoona, Pennsylvania (www.biometricsolution.com).
Biometric systems automatically identify a person based on physical characteristics such as fingerprints, which remain unique and consistent throughout life. Biometric systems are used today in a range of important applications: from preventing benefit fraud and protecting financial transactions to safeguarding borders, controlling access, and enhancing network security.
What caught Gerards’ eye was that FSS had years of experience implementing fingerprint ID technology in the peak traffic, high scrutiny, public setting of universities and K-12 schools, where hundreds of students typically must be identified and processed for lunch or other meals in a tight, 15-20 minute timeframe.
Gerards worked with FSS to tailor the fingerprint ID system for retailers who need fast, accurate age and identity verification to safeguard their communities from underage alcohol and tobacco use. Customers register in a one-minute process where they volunteer their driver’s license number, date of birth, license expiration date, and a finger for digital scanning. The info is read off the magnetic strip of their license, which a clerk verifies against the card’s front