The card industry has been trying to hook Americans on “smart cards” for years. Though they’ve caught on elsewhere in the world, Americans have balked at using the cards with memory chips embedded. Merchants don’t want to pay the extra cost for the technology required to use them, and their customers haven’t seen much reason to demand them.
But in Japan, smart cards are in wide use, and are being put to a noble cause — preventing kids from buying cigarettes.
Vending machines are everywhere in Japan, and precocious underage nicotine addicts have been buying cigarettes from them. Under pressure from world health groups, the vending industry came up with a solution — the “Tapso” smart card. To get a card, you have to be 20, show ID and have your picture taken. To get your smokes, you’ll have to flash the card on a smart card reader, which will quickly “phone home” to check a central database and confirm the card’s validity, and voila! Out pop cancer sticks.
Smart card readers will be installed on the cigarette vending machines by the end of July. The AsiaPulse News (via AccessMyLibrary, registration required), reports that the cards caused quite a stir among vending machine owners, who had to pony up 100,000 yen ($970) for every machine upgraded.
Unfortunately, the Wall Street Journal reports today that the smart card advocates may have outsmarted themselves. As the changeover looms, only 8 percent of Japan’s 26 million million smokers have bothered to apply for the cards. And that has Japan’s 41,000 convenience stores licking their chops — they don’t require IDs for smokers.