If you are in Japan, you have probably already seen the bright yellow notices plastered all over the country’s cigarette vending machines. At first, I thought it was some fancy advertising campaign, but instead, they are announcing the launch of “taspo”, an ID card embedded with an IC (integrated circuit) chip containing information proving the owner is at least 20 years old (the legal age for purchasing cigarettes).
What does it say?
Each notice reads something along the lines of,
To prevent underage smoking, as of June 1st, if you don’t have a taspo card, you won’t be able to buy cigarettes at this machine.
How to get a taspo card
Getting a card looks nearly as troublesome as applying for a passport or an alien registration card! The taspo website is in both English and Japanese, but the application form is in Japanese only. There are very clear English instructions on the site which show you what you need and where to put it. Generally, you need to fill in your name, date of birth, address and phone number. You must write with a black ball pen, and include the katakana version of your name. Your address must be written in Japanese, and everything must match your alien registration card, which you’ll need to provide a readable copy of.
Do the benefits outweigh the hassle?
Well, I don’t think so. If you’re already 20 or over, this is no more than a huge inconvenience. Of course, they try to appeal to the nobler motive of saving the health of our youngsters, but if that were the case, why didn’t they just remove the machines years ago and force you to buy cigarettes over the counter?
Then they try to sell you on the convenience of having a prepaid card that you merely have to swish over the sensor to get your tobacco fix. Big deal.
Is this really a good thing?
Smokers and non-smokers alike will most probably agree that steps taken to prevent youngsters smoking is a good thing. However, I argue that since the number of smokers is decreasing dramatically anyway (source), why is it necessary to introduce ID cards now? Why not let the number of smokers naturally fall instead of messing about with IC chips, forms and photographs?
Could there be an ulterior motive?
First, I would imagine some vending machine companies will profit immensely from replacing or adapting every single cigarette machine in the country. Has this been mentioned in the news?
Second, If I was the head of Japan Tobacco, this would be the perfect opportunity to gather customer data. I don’t know whether those IC chips can record what brand of cigarettes you buy and how often, or whether that data is sent to JT HQ when you charge your card, but they would definitely have all your personal details (and photo) stored on their computers from the application process, and let’s not forget that Japan Tobacco is still half owned by the government, which doesn’t fill me with confidence.
The taspo card seems to be a stepping stone toward the government and associated businesses eventually storing all our personal data and tracking our purchases. How long will it be before we all have one single card (or something built into our cell phones) that tells everything about us; who we are, where we live, what we do, what we buy, and even where we are right now?
You may think those New World Order folks are crazy with their talk of implanting IC chips into all of us, but that seems to be the direction we are heading with today’s “convenient” technology.
Anyway, I haven’t had a cigarette for about nine months, and taspo won’t encourage me to start again! 😛If you like, you can find me on Twitter at @nick_ramsay. I'd love to hear from you!