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13 May 2008 08:24
Teenage smokers in Japan could soon be taking their last illicit puffs thanks to the introduction of cigarette-vending machines that can spot underage customers just by looking at them.
The machines are equipped with a digital camera that can compare users’ facial characteristics with a database of more than 100 000 people.
Their ability to spot sagging skin, wrinkles around the eyes and other signs of maturity means underage smokers—in Japan anyone under 20—will have to look elsewhere for their nicotine fix.
Though the machines have yet to be approved amid doubts about their accuracy, their maker, Fujitaka, believes they will be indispensable to attempts to cut smoking rates among teenagers. A Health Ministry survey found that 13% of boys and 4% of girls aged 17 or 18 smoked daily.
From July Japan’s existing 570 000 cigarette vending machines will require users to insert a smart card proving they are old enough to smoke.
“With face recognition, as long as you are an adult and have some change, you’ll be able to buy cigarettes as before,” Hajime Yamamoto, a Fujitaka spokesperson, said.
Cigarette vending machines have long been the automated equivalent of the gullible newsagent, dispensing cigarettes to children in return for a few hundred yen, no questions asked.
Fujitaka says its system can correctly identify about 90% of users, but encounters problems when sizing up youthful-looking adults and minors who lost their adolescent looks early on.
Japan is home to about 5,5-million vending machines—one for every 23 people—with takings of almost seven trillion yen a year (Â£35-billion), according to a vending machine-makers’ association.—Â.
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