BACKGROUND: Legislation is a potentially important health promotion strategy to control the consumption of tobacco and alcohol by minors. Effectiveness of such laws may depend on the extent of which laws are adequately drafted, implemented, and enforced. However, studies of adherence with laws banning the sale of cigarettes to minors indicate low levels of enforcement. As a comparison, this study investigated adherence of alcohol retailers to legislation banning the sale of alcohol to minors in New South Wales, Australia. The aim was to determine the proportion and characteristics of alcohol retail outlets which sell alcohol to apparently underage youth. METHOD: Eight 18-year-olds who were judged by independent raters to look younger than the legal age attempted to purchase alcohol from 168 alcohol retail outlets (hotels, registered clubs, and bottle shops), in a nonmetropolitan region of New South Wales. RESULTS: No challenge about age was made for 68% of purchases. Youth were asked their age on 8% of occasions and proof of age was required on only 24% of occasions. Display of a warning sign was not associated with being required to show proof of age, nor was gender or dress of the buyer (casual clothes vs school uniform). Bottle shops were more likely to require proof of age than hotels or clubs. CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest that the implementation of legislation banning the sale of alcohol to minors is currently inadequate and that new efforts are needed to discourage the sale of alcohol to minors.