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Danes recruit teens as incognito booze police

Alcohol for sale at a shop in Copenhagen. (Noah Haynes/YJI)

Copenhagen, DENMARK – The authorities in Denmark have begun using teenagers to work undercover in an effort to crack down on underage purchases of alcohol, tobacco and nicotine.

The Danish Safety Technology Authority’s new initiative, which began July 1, already found one in three shops in violation of the law.

In Denmark, anyone over 16 can legally purchase 1.2% to 16.5% alcohol. Those over 18 can purchase alcohol that is more than 16.5%. Nicotine and tobacco products can only be purchased by those over 18.

Though there is a law on purchasing, there is no law on drinking. 

The first inspection, carried out on the 1st of July, showed a higher percentage of violations of the age restrictions than they saw in the previous four years of checking on stores, the authorities said.

Under the new system, a young agent will ask for a product from the categories of liquor, nicotine or tobacco product to see whether the shop asks for ID.

The Danish Safety Technology Authority said the alcohol industry was informed before the undercover youth began working. 

The safety authority said the youth workers visited 50 shops on July 1. Of those, 33 observed the age limit whereas 17 did not.

First-time offenders are subject to a 10,000 DKK fine (about $1,450 USD)  for alcohol and 25,000 DKK fine (more than $3,600 USD) for tobacco, tobacco substitutes, e-cigarettes or “herbal smoking products.” 

The Danish Safety Technology Authority was not able to provide a young agent for an interview in time for publication.

In a press release, Stine Pedersen, head of the Danish Safety Technology Authority, said the results show the need for more effective control.

“Our intention with the new system is not just to hand out fines over the counter,” Pedersen said. “On the contrary, we hope that the percentage of violations will decrease over time. Therefore, we continue to enter into dialogue with the industry about the problem. But of course, we will also continue to supervise age control.”

Youth Journalism International inquired on the safety of teens working with the program.

The official response from the agency was that the teens will never work in their own area and instead be driven by adult officers to stores far from home.

In case of an unpleasant situation, the young inspector has an in-house option of getting psychological advice and guidance, the agency said. The option is available every hour every day. If a store or person threatens an agent, it will be reported to police. 

Jesper Østergaard, CEO of 7-Eleven Denmark, said in an emailed statement,  “We must, of course, follow the law. And young people under 18 should not be able to buy nicotine products or alcohol over 16.5% in 7-Eleven.”

Stephanie Lassen, owner of Vestjyden, an independent shop in Copenhagen that sells upscale brands of alcohol, candy and jam, said she doesn’t have many young people coming in and is happy she doesn’t sell cheap booze. 

She has no remorse for saying no if someone is underage.

Østergaard said being asked for an ID should be viewed positively, as it keeps youth safe.

“The new initiative also requires a cultural shift, as Danes still need to get used to the idea that it is completely natural to be asked for ID when buying vodka and cigarettes,” said Østergaard. 

Youth Journalism International tried to contact Salling Group, which owns many of the major supermarkets, and Min Købmand, which owns many small general stores in Denmark, but they did not respond with a comment. 

Noah Haynes is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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