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Nine in ten businesses sell alcohol to young people, night shops are doing better than catering and supermarkets

Public health

An inspection by the FPS Public Health with ‘mystery shoppers’ shows that almost nine in ten of the businesses inspected sold alcohol to minors. With regard to the sale of tobacco products, almost 70 percent of the cases were in violation. Striking: night shops are doing better than catering establishments and supermarkets.

During the inspection last summer, so-called mystery shoppers aged 15, 16 and 17 years old tried to purchase tobacco products and alcohol, while an inspector from the FPS Public Health watched anonymously. The results show that 89.5 percent of the controlled businesses sold alcoholic beverages to underage test buyers and that 69.4 percent sold tobacco products to young people. In total, almost 2,000 cases were checked. “It is only the first time that we have carried out an inspection with mystery shoppers and we did not expect the figures to be so bad,” says Paul Van den Meerssche, head of the Inspection Service of the FPS Public Health. “The campaign was announced in advance.”

Of the different types of businesses, the catering industry performs the worst, with an infringement rate of 96.5 percent. “There is an urgent need for a change in mentality in the catering industry,” Van den Meerssche emphasizes. “But also in the supermarkets, about 90 percent were not compliant. Surprising: the night shops were at 74 percent and therefore did a lot less badly.”

Two age limits

Overall, when purchasing alcohol, age was only asked in 13.2 percent of cases and proof of age was asked in only 4.9 percent of young buyers. For the sale of tobacco products, this was 29.8 percent and 12.8 percent respectively. “It is striking that many more age checks are carried out for tobacco, although the sale of alcohol to minors has been prohibited for much longer. But for sellers, the two age limits for alcohol may not always be clear,” said the head of the inspection service.

“We also carry out traditional checks without test shoppers and these checks showed in 2023 that there were 6 percent infringements for alcohol and 8 percent for tobacco products,” says Van den Meerssche. The fact that there is such a big difference with the new figures is because much of the regular tests has to be left to chance. “Despite this, we have never seen such high rates of breaches before. Normally the infringements for tobacco products are around 4 or 5 percent. This may also be due to the fact that we have made our traditional controls more targeted.”

Tough traders

According to the FPS Public Health, it is worrying that traders who previously made mistakes almost never apply age checks during a new check. “The infringement rate for non-repeat offenders is 89.7 percent and for repeat offenders it is 88.6 percent. So it clearly makes no difference whether a trader has previously received a warning or been sanctioned,” says Van den Meerssche. “You can continue to warn them, but it might be better if we start drawing up an official report for repeat offenders.”

All checked cases have received a letter with the results of the checks. No fines have been imposed for the time being, as the aim of the campaign was to identify the problem and create awareness. Another campaign with mystery shoppers will take place this summer, with stricter action being taken against repeat offenders.

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