Cigarette vending machines in Japan may soon start counting
wrinkles, crow's feet and skin sags to see if the customer
is old enough to smoke.
The legal age for smoking in Japan is 20 and as the country's
570,000 tobacco vending machines prepare for a July regulation
requiring them to ensure buyers are not underage, a company
has developed a system to identify age by studying facial
By having the customer look into a digital camera attached
to the machine, Fujitaka Co's system will compare facial characteristics,
such as wrinkles surrounding the eyes, bone structure and
skin sags, to the facial data of over 100,000 people, Hajime
Yamamoto, a company spokesman said.
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"With face recognition, so long as you've got some change
and you are an adult, you can buy cigarettes like before.
The problem of minors borrowing (identification) cards to
purchase cigarettes could be avoided as well," Yamamoto
Japan's finance ministry has already given permission to
an age-identifying smart card called "taspo" and
a system that can read the age from driving licenses.
It has yet to approve the facial identification method due
to concerns about its accuracy.
Yamamoto said the system could correctly identify about 90
percent of the users, with the remaining 10 percent sent to
a "grey zone" for "minors that look older,
and baby-faced adults," where they would be asked to
insert their driving license.
Underage smoking has been on a decline in Japan, but a health
ministry survey in 2004 showed 13 percent of boys and 4 percent
of girls in the third year of high school -- those aged 17
to 18 -- smoked every day.