One of the first things you'll notice here in Japan is the vending machines. Though the streets are almost paved with them, you'll soon discover that they never have food. Nope, no food in the vending machines in Japan. There is some kind of cultural taboo against eating and walking, or so I've heard. Vending machines here carry only two kinds of wares. Tobacco and drinks.
Tobacco machines are all but extinct in the States. I can just barely remember seeing one while I was growing up. I remember that old dinosaur. It was so old you had to pull a knob to get your cigarettes out of it. Today most vending machines used a kind of motorized screw to drop the purchased item into a retrieval area. Before I was old enough to be aware of the world and its legal situation, tobacco machines in America (or at least Florida) were outlawed.
But there are plenty of cigarette vending machines here in Japan. I might walk by half a dozen of them every day, on my way to the train station. No ID check, anybody could just walk up and buy cigarettes. I didn't think much of it, because of the other kind of vending machine. The alcohol vending machines. Beer, mostly, but not just cans of beer. Great big cans of beer. Sizes that might be considered mini kegs back at home.
In my book, both alcohol and tobacco are drugs, but alcohol is clearly the more serious of the two. Only alcohol can kill you that very night from drinking and numerous complications thereof. Alcohol accounts for more related accidents and deaths, like drunk driving, than tobacco ever could. So I was surprised that anybody in Japan would have access to what is, for all intent and purposes, an unlimited supply.
Then comes Taspo.
Taspo is a new card system meant to stop underage kids from buying tobacco. Of the two drugs, tobacco is considered to be the more dangerous. That's right, Japan's government has passed legislation to require all tobacco machines to verify age. And to do so, you have to sign up for a special smart card.
I scanned the front of the application above. Leafing through it, I found they ask for an incredible amount of personal data. Not just age and address, but so much personal data I couldn't help but feel that it would come back to bite the ass of anyone who applies for one. They wanted a picture and a phone number. Like getting a second drivers license. What of those alcohol vending machines? Nope, those don't have to check ID. Its just tobacco the Japanese government is worried about.
This new Taspo age verification technology is now in the field. The results of its implementation are somewhat surprising. You have to understand that there are many small tobacco stores in Japan. Usually they're run by a single retired old man. Most of their profits don't come from cigarette sales, but from vending machines. Think of it more as a hobby/side business for a retiree than a store. Well those vending machines have seen their profits fall faster than Gyarusone on a noodle bowl. But people are still buying cigarettes. They're just going to the 7-11.
The net result of Taspo has been to shift business away from small owners, and into the hands of larger convenience stores. I think its safe to say that anybody who was smoking before is still smoking, and kids who weren't smoking before still aren't.