A study published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health has found that pubs, bars and nightclubs regularly flout legislation preventing the sale of alcohol to people who appear highly intoxicated.

The short report investigated the purchasing patterns of pseudo-intoxicated actors in a selected UK city’s nighttime environment, and discovered that over four-fifths (84%) of purchase attempts across 73 randomly selected licensed establishments resulted in a sale.

All purchase attempts were made between 2100 and 0300 hours, on every day of the week except Mondays and Tuesdays in May 2013. Most sales occurred without hesitation, despite bartenders often recognising drunkenness. This was identified by either their comments to the actor or to another server, or by rolling their eyes.

On almost one in five occasions (18%), bartenders suggested the actors purchase double rather than single servings of alcohol, a practice known as “up-selling”.

“Continued provision of alcohol to drunks will increase the risks of acute and long term health and social harms, and consequently, the burdens these place on public services and society,” the report’s authors commented.

“Although our study focused on one city, a lack of prosecution for sales to drunks throughout England suggests this is typical of nightlife environments nationally. With policies to prevent alcohol related harm by increasing alcohol prices failing to be implemented, increased use of legislation preventing sales of alcohol to drunks should be considered a public health priority,” they concluded.

Does legislation to prevent alcohol sales to drunk individuals work? Measuring the propensity for night-time sales to drunks in a UK city‘ is published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Online First, DOI: 10.1136/jech-2013-203287