State Rep. Mark Meadows (D–East Lansing) has received one e-mail since Michigan’s keg tag law took effect Nov. 1.

State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) has not had to respond to a single comment from a keg retailer or a potential buyer — supportive or critical — over that time. Neither has Bob West, assistant city attorney of Ann Arbor.

But in some Ann Arbor stores that sell kegs, owners have fielded an overload of questions from customers unaware of the new law, which mandates that retailers attach tags with customers’ personal information — including their state ID numbers — to all kegs sold. Angry customers and the loss of sales at some locations over the past month have caused some lawmakers to question the law’s effectiveness.

At Strickland’s Market on Geddes Avenue, the drop in keg sales in the past month exceeded owner Eddie Galyana’s expectations of a 10-to-15-percent decline. Galyana said he has sold about 10 fewer kegs this month than he did in October, citing customers’ unfamiliarity with and anxiety about the new law.

“People are still buying, but they’re buying less,” Galyana said. “And when they are buying they’re thinking twice, like, ‘I don’t want to give my information … to the state.’ ”

Galyana added that though the law has not dissuaded any customers from buying kegs while in the store, most have seemed uncomfortable with the new purchasing requirements. At the same time, Galyana suspects some customers have chosen not to buy kegs due to unease about the availability of their information to state officials. As part of the law, records of keg sales must be available for at least one year for police to inspect at random.

Galyana added that beer case and liquor sales have risen by 5 percent over the last month at the store, in accordance with his prediction last month that customers would alternatively buy cases of beer or liquor as an alternative to kegs.

Other local keg retailers have seen less of a decline in keg sales. Sunny Bhagat, owner of Blue Front Kegs on Packard Street, said he could not tell if his keg sales declined from October to November. However, he said many of his customers knew of the law’s implementation before coming in to buy a keg. In fact, Bhagat found out about the law when three or four of his customers told him they read about it in the newspaper.

“It doesn’t make a difference to them,” Bhagat said, adding that most of his customers haven’t reacted negatively when filling out the tags.

The store’s unchanging sales of beer cases — which, Bhagat noted, cost more per amount of beer than kegs — since last month also obscured whether the law has had any effect on keg sales, he said. And though beer keg sales in Bhagat’s store this November are down 50 percent from last November’s numbers, he said part of this is due to the failing economy and fewer home football games this month.

“It fluctuates because of the games and finals,” Bhagat said.

Skeptics of the law pointed to the difficulty of enforcement as one reason the law would not be effective on preventing minors from gaining access to alcohol. Irwin said he has always thought the law would not achieve the cultural changes necessary to eliminate underage drinking.

“It’s already plenty illegal to buy alcohol as an underage person or to provide alcohol to an underage person, so I’m not sure how this law is going to change that or make it any more intense,” he said.

However, Irwin acknowledged, like Meadows and Bhagat, that one month not enough time to project the law’s impact.

“If we were able to check back in on this in a year and find out what really happened, we might have a better idea of whether this was a bona fide effort to really reduce underage drinking or just an opportunity for some folks to take credit for doing something about underage drinking,” he said. “I suspect that we’ll look back and determine that the latter of the two choices was right … but I’m open to being proven wrong.”

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