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Checking ID for Alcohol and Tobacco Sales

Description of Strategy

Employees at retail outlets, bars, and restaurants that sell alcohol and/or tobacco are responsible for checking the identification of customers who attempt to purchase alcohol or tobacco. Age identification policies are written guidelines for employees, provided by their place of work, specifying a set of standard instructions to follow as they check customers’ identification. Consistent use of these guidelines can help employees refuse to sell alcohol/tobacco to any customer that does not have a valid form of identification proving that they are 21 or older and increase the detection of the use of fake IDs (University of Minnesota Alcohol Epidemiology Program, 2009).

Discussion of Effectiveness


Evidence from studies that evaluated multi-component college campus alcohol prevention programs found a significant reduction in alcohol access. Checking ID for alcohol sales was a part of the program (Toomey, 2001; Wagenaar et al., 2000). A comprehensive study investigating the effects of 20 alcohol laws in the United States found 11.9% reduction in sales to minors when fake ID retailer support and detection technologies were in place (Fell, Scherer, Thomas, & Voas, 2016). Evidence, however, is insufficient to evaluate checking ID for alcohol sales as an independent prevention strategy.


Multiple studies have shown that ID checks can lower youth tobacco use to some extent. One study reported an effect, primarily among women when used in conjunction with other policies (Grucza et al., 2013). Results from three positively rated studies included in a systematic review found age and identification requests were effective in reducing illegal sales of tobacco to youth. Identification requests were found to be more effective in reducing tobacco sales to minors than when age was requested (Richardson et al., 2009).


Strategy Description

University of Minnesota Alcohol Epidemiology Program. (2009). Checking Age Identification. Retrieved September 20, 2017

Evidence Base

Fell, J. C., Scherer, M., Thomas, S., & Voas, R. B. (2016). Assessing the impact of twenty underage drinking laws. Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs, 77(2), 249-260.

Grucza, R. A., Plunk, A. D., Hipp, P. R., Cavazos-Rehg, P., Krauss, M. J., Brownson, R. C., & Bierut, L. J. (2013). Long-term effects of laws governing youth access to tobacco. American journal of public health103(8), 1493-1499.

Levinson, A. H., Hendershott, S., & Byers, T. E. (2002). The ID effect on youth access to cigarettes. Tobacco Control, 11(4), 296–299. doi:10.1136/tc.11.4.296

Richardson, L., Hemsing, N., Greaves, L., Assanand, S., Allen, P., McCullough, L., … Amos, A. (2009). Preventing Smoking in Young People: A Systematic Review of the Impact of Access Interventions. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 6(4), 1485–1514. doi:10.3390/ijerph6041485

Stead, L. F., & Lancaster, T. (2005). Interventions for preventing tobacco sales to minors. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Toomey, T. L., Wagenaar, A. C., Gehan, J. P., Kilian, G., Murray, D. M., & Perry, C. L. (2001). Project ARM: Alcohol Risk Management to Prevent Sales to Underage and Intoxicated Patrons. Health Education & Behavior, 28(2), 186–199. doi:10.1177/109019810102800205

Wagenaar, A. C., Murray, D. M., Gehan, J. P., Wolfson, M., Forster, J. L., Toomey, T. L., … Jones-Webb, R. (2000). Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol: Outcomes from a randomized community trial. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 61(1), 85.

Futher Reading

National Association of Governors’ Highway Safety Representatives. (2001). Community how to guides on underage drinking prevention: Guide 5, Enforcement. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.