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You can do a lot of things with the click of a mouse. End a relationship. Destroy a career. Forward funny pet videos to your friends.
Add get alcohol when you’re underage to the list of possibilities if a bill allowing wineries to ship directly to New Jersey consumers becomes law, said Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union).
Cryan wrote an op-ed criticizing legislation in the state Senate that would allow direct shipment of wine. Cryan has sponsored a bill that would amend the state’s licensing laws for wineries but does not allow direct shipping.
And the debate over shipping wine is certain to raise at least one concern: underage drinking.
"Direct shipment provides a virtual store for teens to buy alcohol they would otherwise be prohibited from buying at liquor stores. It makes the face-to-face purchase transaction practically irrelevant; and makes underage drinking as simple as a mouse click," Cryan wrote in an op-ed posted on CourierPostOnline.com on Aug. 21.
Can the under-21 crowd get drunk with the click of a mouse? PolitiFact New Jersey found it’s not that easy.
Cryan’s deputy chief of staff, Dave Jenkins, sent PolitiFact New Jersey a 2005 report from an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support the claim. The report said "the Internet acts as a general store" where teenagers can "get hold of almost anything," including beer, wine and liquor, but also marijuana, prescription drugs and "crack dealer locator services."
Though the report raises concerns about what teenagers can access online, it does not address underage consumers ordering wine through a licensed winery.
A 2003 study by the Federal Trade Commission and a 2010 report from the Comptroller of Maryland -- that noted the difficulty of proving a cause and effect relationship in this case -- found little to no evidence of an increase in underage drinking due to direct shipment of wine.
The Maryland report said, "The reasons for this may be that: (1) "wine" is not the drink of choice for youth; and (2) direct shipment of wine is costly and time-consuming."
Jenkins called the Maryland report "useless" because its conclusion "only recognizes the need for a better method of evaluation."
Other studies show, and experts said, that underage consumers looking for alcohol probably aren’t going to buy wine.
An April report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and a 2006 report by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse both concluded that wine is not the first choice for underage drinkers.
Marilyn Aguirre-Molina, professor of clinical population and family health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said, "teens are going online for everything imaginable, but something like alcohol -- which requires a credit card, an address to mail it too, as well as patience until it arrives -- online purchase of wine is a drag and hassle, especially if it’s the least preferred of alcoholic beverages."
Even if someone younger than 21 wanted to order a bottle of wine and successfully placed that order online, Cryan’s claim starts to unravel when the product is packaged.
FedEx and UPS require packages containing wine to be labeled, saying they contain alcoholic beverages. Also, both companies require the signature of an adult 21 or older upon delivery. The U.S. Postal Service does not ship wine.
Cryan’s deputy chief of staff said it’s lawmakers’ responsibility to ensure underage individuals do not get access to alcohol.
"We cannot depend upon the policies of FedEx, or others to properly deny those underage from delivery. We must be proactive, not reactive. What if FedEx changes their policy tomorrow?" he wrote in an email.
Joanne Tetlow, a division staff attorney with the Comptroller of Maryland's field enforcement division who compiled the agency’s report on direct wine shipment, said since "we don’t license consumers like we do retailers" states that allow direct shipment of wine are relying on the shipping companies.
And there is a chance those measures will fail.
"Do we believe it represents a threat? Absolutely," said Michael Scippa, public affairs director for Alcohol Justice, a California-based industry watchdog. He said age verification online and by delivery companies are "two areas where it seems easy to or possible to bypass the law."
Cryan claimed that allowing wineries to ship their product directly to consumers makes "underage drinking as simple as a mouse click."
But even if an underage individual can order a bottle of wine online, the two major shipping companies in the U.S. require an adult signature in order to deliver the package.
Cryan’s claim exaggerates a legitimate concern, but we can’t ignore the hint of truth in the statement -- that shipping wine directly to homes provides another opportunity for underage access.
We rate his statement Mostly False.
To comment on this ruling, go to NJ.com.
Op-ed on CourierPostOnline.com by Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, Allowing wine shipments would hurt N.J., Aug. 21, 2011
The NCADI Reporter, Internet Offers Minors Easy Access to Alcohol and Illicit Drugs
Comptroller of Maryland, Direct Wine Shipment Report, Dec. 31, 2010
FedEx, Wine Shipping, accessed Aug. 23, 2011
UPS, Delivery Confirmation, accessed Aug. 23, 2011
USPS, Can You Ship It?, accessed Aug. 23, 2011
New Jersey State Assembly, A3831, accessed Aug. 23, 2011
New Jersey State Senate, S2782, accessed Aug. 23, 2011
Email interviews with Dave Jenkins, deputy chief of staff for Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, Aug. 25 & 26, 2011
Email interview with Chris Donnelly, spokesman for state Sen. Stephen Sweeney, Aug. 23, 2011
Interview with Joanne Tetlow, Division Staff Attorney in Field Enforcement Division for Comptroller of Maryland, Aug. 25, 2011
Interview with Chuck Ulm, Assistant Director in Field Enforcement Division for Comptroller of Maryland, Aug. 25, 2011
Interview with Michael Scippa, public affairs director for Alcohol Justice, Aug. 25, 2011
Email interview with Marilyn Aguirre-Molina, professor of clinical population and family health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Aug. 25, 2011
Federal Trade Commission, Possible Anticompetitive Barriers to E-Commerce: Wine, July 2003
Federal Trade Commission, FTC: E-commerce Lowers Prices, Increases Choices in Wine Market, July 3, 2003
The Star-Ledger, For wineries, court ruling leaves sour taste, Jan. 26, 2011
American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Alcoholic Beverage Preferences and Associated Drinking Patterns and Risk Behaviors Among High School Youth, April 2011
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, The Commercial Value of Underage and Pathological Drinking to the Alcohol Industry, May 2006
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