Smoker’s face: scan estimates age of buyer at cigarette stores

Photo: H@nd

Smokers in some parts of the Netherlands are being asked to have a face scan to see if they are old enough to buy cigarettes, the AD reported on Thursday.

Places which sell cigarettes are required by law to check buyers’ IDs to see if they are 18 or over. Failure to comply with the age check requirement can result in fines of up to €9,000 or a temporary loss of the licence to sell tobacco products.

So far some 100 outlets have opted for a scanner, including five petrol stations in the The Hague region, the AD said.

Using artificial intelligence, the camera scans a buyer’s face, and estimates their age, based on features such as skin condition and wrinkles. If a buyer is thought to be over 25 the transaction can go ahead but if there is doubt the machine will ask to scan an ID.

“The process is similar to that at airports,” Theo Snijders, CEO of the scan making firm H@nd, told the paper.

The legal framework around the scanning process has been devised together with product safety organisation NVWA, privacy watchdogs and lawyers to make sure buyers’ personal data is not compromised.

The scanner does not store data and only records the number of scans. A scan is not a condition for buying tobacco, Snijders said, because that would be illegal.

“I was a bit taken aback when asked to do a scan,” a smoker at one of the petrol stations said, “but if it helps I won’t refuse.” Another said he would not be using the scanner because “it is unclear what happens to my data. I can scan the QR code to read the conditions but that takes too much time,” he said.

From July this year tobacco products can only be sold at specialists stores and petrol stations.

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