In a bid to crack down on tobacco use among teenagers, German smokers will have to use debit cards proving they are aged at least 16 when buying cigarettes from vending machines from 2007.
Teenage kicks: Youngsters won't be able to get their cigarettes so easily in future
The German government's drug czar, Sabine Bätzig, unveiled the measure which will take effect on Jan. 1, 2007 at a press conference in Berlin.
"By introducing age restrictions for the purchase of cigarettes from a vending machine, we are putting youth protection laws into practice," said Bätzig, who is based at the family affairs ministry.
"We therefore limit the access of young people to cigarettes and protect them from possible harm," she said.
To buy a pack from a machine, adult smokers will have to use a debit card embedded with a microchip that contains a "Jugendschutzmerkmal" (youth protection symbol).
Anyone under the age of 16 would be automatically rejected.
Debit card move closes loophole o n ve n di n g machi n es
Teenagers can get hold of smokes from vending machines
"With this measure we close a major loophole in the youth protection law which bans the sale of cigarettes to people under the age of 16," Bätzig said.
The law, which went on the books in April 2003, did not explicitly cover vending machines.
The legislation came as part of a raft of measures that have driven down the smoking rate among German adolescents, to 20 percent among 12 to 17 year olds in 2005 from 28 percent in 2001.
Many major banks already issue debit and credit cards with the required microchips but vending machines throughout the country will have to be replaced with ones that can read the new cards.
Bätzing said she expected that the number of machines used by the tobacco industry would drop to 450,000 from 800,000 currently.