Children as young as 12 are exploiting online delivery systems to have alcohol and cigarettes sent straight to their homes or local post offices, with one in three getting booze delivered without an ID check.
Underage teens and tweens are circumventing online systems by typing a fake birthday into web sites and accessing age-restricted goods, including wine, beer, spirits, cigarettes, tobacco and vaping products.
New research released to The Sun-Herald from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education and La Trobe University's Centre for Alcohol Police Research shows that more than one in three people under 25 were not asked for identification when they received their orders.
Twelve per cent of respondents said they received their alcohol deliveries in person and were not asked for identification, while 24 per cent had their deliveries either left at an address or delivered to someone else.
A Lane Cove father, who spoke to The Sun-Herald on the condition of anonymity, said his son, who was in late primary school, had bought electronic cigarettes using a pre-paid credit card purchased from a supermarket.
"If you go on the Vapeking website, you're asked if you're over or under 18," he said.
"Pick 'over 18' and that is all they do to verify your age.
"I found [the e-cigarettes] in my letterbox and threw them in the bin."
His son then discovered another loophole - having the products sent to an Australia Post office.
An Australia Post spokeswoman said that the company had a "limited ability" to open parcels, and did not know what was contained in most domestic packages.
"We have processes and systems in place where the contents are known, to ensure delivery requirements are met and also work proactively with law-enforcement agencies to ensure misuse of our services is minimised."
The rapid changes to the way that consumer products are bought has left the system unfit for purpose, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education chief executive Michael Thorn said.
"We're dealing with a regulatory system out to lunch," he said.
"Alcohol is not an ordinary commodity. Fundamentally, this allows a circumvention of the bricks and mortar system that we've had."
FARE is agitating for age-verification provisions to become more stringent. The purchase of age-restricted products online should require the scanning of a driver's licence and the checking of it upon delivery, he said.
"NSW is well placed to do that with its fancy new digital licence.
"We believe anyone involved in sale through to delivery needs to be licensed under the NSW Liquor Act. Most of them are not," he said.
An audit of NSW licensees selling alcohol online found that 60 per cent did not require date of birth at the point of sale.
The audit by the Northern Sydney Local Health District earlier this year found inconsistent application of the relevant legislation, a failure to advertise the age restrictions for the products and that buy-now-pay-later options, such as Zip Pay, could be used.
Mr Thorn said that children were circumventing age restrictions "pretty easily", and there should be more regulation.
"Governments won't act until something really bad happens - a truckload of booze is delivered to kids and there's a riot or an affray. It seems to be that there is insufficient concern, there's a sense that it [online alcohol delivery] is just the way the economy is going."
He said that online alcohol sellers - including major bottle shops such as the Woolworths-owned Dan Murphys and BWS, and Coles' Liquorland - were targeted equally by underage drinkers.
In a statement, Woolworths said the supermarket giant took age verification "very seriously".
"We have a policy of checking ID if a customer looks younger than 25 years of age and will refuse the service of age-restricted products where this can't be provided," a spokesman said.
"Drivers are trained not to leave online orders unattended if they contain age-restricted products. We do not deliver online orders to post office boxes."
Coles did not respond to requests for comment.
- SMH/The Age