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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. is looking to reinvent the fading cigarette vending machine with a model designed to prevent illegal purchases by those under 18.
The machine works only when customers prove they old enough by swiping a credit card and a valid identification with a magnetic strip. A virtual sales clerk on the machine's video screen tells kids they're too young.
Brown & Williamson is testing the machines in taverns, nightclubs and restaurants in Los Angeles and Cleveland.
"It solves the age-old problem of access through the use of an age verification system," Steve Rogers, manager of distribution and vending for the Louisville-based maker of Kool, Pall Mall and Lucky Strike cigarettes, said in a statement.
Many communities restricted or banned cigarette vending machines after anti-smoking advocates argued they give minors easy access to tobacco. There were about 700,000 cigarette machines in 1987, but their numbers have plummeted to about 166,000. They account for about 1 percent of industry sales, according to B&W estimates.
Anti-smoking advocates said the new machines still fall short of verifying that their customers are over 18.
"There's a large potential for abuse by minors because they could fraudulently use someone over 18's ID," Cindy Adams, an American Cancer Society spokeswoman, told the AP. "It takes out the element of having a real live person who can determine properly if the person trying to purchase the cigarettes is age 18 or older."