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Age Verification Progress

A Utah inventor, with the support of a statewide vaping organization, has come up with a device that will make it easier for vape shops in the state to screen customers by age.

This will be a great help to sellers of vaping equipment, both in the short term and the long.

In the short term, this will expedite a process that most vape shops already practice, even though it is not yet required by law in all locations  – vetting underage customers – and one which promises to become increasingly important as long-awaited, and much needed, federal regulation is put in place.

Code Corporation, working with the scanner manufacturer Draper, has invented a handheld scanner that reads barcodes, like the ones used at state liquor stores, which were produced by the same companies, with the same technologies. The development of this product came about at the behest of the Utah Vapers' Association, an association of 30-some vape shops, according to its Director, Aaron Frazier.

The device simply reads an ID, notes the birthdate, and calculates the age of the would-be customer. Look Ma! No math!

"It’s a protective measure to take the human-mistake factor out of reading an ID," said Frazier.

"Throughout the state of Utah, there is a growing problem in kids obtaining not only e-cigarettes but all tobacco products. We want to be part of the solution in combating that."

Given serious concerns in the public arena about sale of electronic cigarettes to minors, vape shops by and large have been very good about policing themselves in this matter. They know that their survival depends on public acceptance, and they have eagerly supported underage-sales bans. Anything that expedites this task will help. Vape shops will be an increasingly vital part of the picture as the marketing wars heat up between the e-cigs fielded by Big Tobacco and those fielded by independents (who sell no poisons). Vape shops are more likely to carry the independents.

Convenience stores are a little bit stickier. They have no particular brief for e-cigarettes that would distinguish them from any other lucrative product. They will not tank if e-cigs are banned. On the other hand, they tend to know a good thing when they see it, and would not want to send golden-egg-laying geese to the poultry-and-meat packing facility. A device that keeps their noses clean on the issue of age-vetting – and does so economically (the Utah-produced device costs a little over $500) – will definitely make them look good.

The other link in the e-cig sales chain is online outlets. It would not seem a difficult matter to create a similar card-verifying device online. Just require entry of a government-issued ID number for online purchase. The reason for the long-term importance of an easy-to-use age verification device has to do with the bigger picture regarding public confidence. Many regulators are very fretful about sale of e-cigs to minors. They are convinced that it will lead to cigarette smoking, although they have yet to produce any evidence that it happens, or that it would even be a logically plausible scenario. But public opinion does not have to be intelligent or well-informed to be powerful. It is important to calm people's fears. Remaining above reproach on this issue may be all important to achieving sensible regulation.

It is said that e-cigs are aimed at children because they have pleasant flavors and employ attractive advertising techniques. It will be more effective to convince these worry-warts that sale-to-minor bans are being rigidly enforced than that their ill-founded but unshakable fears are baseless.

It is a matter of signal importance that this push toward age verification is coming from associations like Utah Vapers. This will go a long way toward creating public confidence in the industry.