Japan - TASPO (tobacco passport) cards to confirm legal age of cigarette purchaser..

February 16, 2010 - About 30 percent of middle and high school students who are below the legal age to smoke buy cigarettes using taspo IC cards, which were introduced to prevent minors from lighting up, according to a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry study panel.

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The panel, chaired by Nihon University Prof. Takashi Oida, said about 40 percent of these underage taspo users obtained the cards from home or family members.

The panel conducted the survey on minors' smoking habits on 240 middle and high schools nationwide in autumn 2008, and 96,000 students in 172 schools responded.

Regarding the introduction of taspo cards, which are used to confirm whether purchasers are of legal adult age when buying cigarette packs from automatic vending machines, 61 percent of the underage students who said they regularly smoke once a month or more said it has become more difficult for them to buy cigarettes.

But 29 percent also said they had bought tobacco using taspo cards. Among students that smoke daily, 42 percent said they had used taspo cards.

Regarding how they acquired the cards, 15 percent said they brought the cards from home; 22 percent said they borrowed cards from family members; and 7.9 percent said they undertook procedures on their own to obtain the cards from the tobacco industry's card-issuing authority.

The percentages of students who smoke at least once a month were 2.9 percent among male middle school students, 2 percent among female middle school students, 9.8 percent among male high school students, and 4.5 percent among female high school students. These figures marked a considerable fall from those of the previous survey 12 years ago--11 percent of male middle school students, 4.9 percent of female middle school students, 31 percent of male high school students, and 13 percent of female high school students.

"As fewer youths regard smoking as being cool, [the phenomenon of] minors' smoking has been steadily decreasing," Oida said. "Though taspo cards are effective to a certain degree, family members' cooperation is necessary."

Reference: Underage smokers using taspo cards, The Yomiuri Shimbun, DAILY YOMIURI ONLINE + AP Associated Press, 2/15/2010.