Legislation is being sought to crack down on underage drinking by prohibiting beer from being bought at self-checkout lanes in Oklahoma grocery and discount stores.
The automated system in the self-checkout lanes is designed to shut down when the scanner reads the bar code on low-point beer. But people younger than 21 have discovered ways to override the system or fool it, said House Minority Leader Scott Inman, who is proposing a bill for legislators to consider next year.
Minors are putting soda and beer in their grocery carts, but leaving the beer in the carts and scanning the sodas twice, said Inman, D-Del City. Then, they put the beer and sodas in their sacks, pay and leave the stores.
“The machine never stops them,” Inman said.
The minors illegally get the beer and the store loses money; a 24-pack of soda costs about $6 compared with about $24 for a 24-pack of beer.
California adopted a state law last year that banned alcohol sales in self-checkout lanes, Inman said. It's unknown whether the measure had a direct effect on youth access to alcohol, he said.
Inman, who proposed similar legislation this year only to have it stall in the House of Representatives, said a study by the University of California at Los Angeles looking at self-checkout and alcohol purchase showed that nearly half the time young people were able to buy alcohol without having to provide proof of their age or make eye contact with a store employee.
Oklahoma grocery and discount stores, such as Walmart, don't sell alcohol or wine, but do sell low-point beer.
A law banning low-point beer at self-serve checkout lanes likely would be similar to the state's ban on cigarettes from being purchased at self-serve checkout lanes; cigarettes are sold only from behind the counter.
Mitzi Mattox, chairman of the YuCan Coalition, a substance abuse prevent group in Yukon, said she supported legislation that would require minors to have face-to-face transactions instead of being able to go through self-serve checkout lanes. Too often, they could be able to buy beer without being noticed, she said.
“It seems way too easy for them to get it,” she said.
Keith Kinnamon, a Chandler grocer and chairman of the Oklahoma Grocers Association, said the abuse of self-serve checkout lanes is not a big problem in the state.
Most devices in the self-checkout lanes are designed to stop beer purchases and require a store employee — usually a manager — to physically complete the transaction, he said.
“We do have security measures in place,” Kinnamon said. “What we're seeing in California, I don't know that we've seen it in Oklahoma.”
Kinnamon said banning beer sales from self-serve checkout lanes would be a hardship for adult customers who want to buy beer and are in a hurry. They would have no option then but to get in a regular checkout lane and have a longer wait.
“It's a convenience for our customers,” he said.
Inman, who presented his proposal last week during an interim study by the House of Representatives Public Safety Committee, said alcohol is still main drug of choice for Oklahoma youth.
“Nearly 72 percent of Oklahoma high school students have consumed alcohol, and 40 percent of all Oklahoma high school students are current drinkers,” he said, citing a 2011 youth risk behavior study.
The average first-time use of alcohol among Oklahoma children is about age 12, Inman said.
A San Diego State University study in 2010 found that having a security guard present, an employee to ask the customer's date of birth and an employee asking questions of the customer helped ensure minors weren't buying alcohol, he said.
“Stores without security and without interactions between the employee and the patron were more likely to not check the person's ID,” Inman said.
Student backs change
Oklahoma Health Commissioner Terry Cline and Darrell Weaver, director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, wrote letters supporting Inman's legislation.
A Yukon High School senior told committee members she also backed the idea.
It would deter minors from getting beer; many of her classmates tell her they've been to parties where beer and alcohol are served.
“I don't want to see my friends get hurt,” said Murphy Smith. “If we could get this passed where you can't get alcohol in self-checkouts, that's a really good idea.”