Monday, November 11, 2002

enabling underage smoking?

Does the web make it easier for those under 18 to purchase cigarettes? Maybe. Should steps be taken to verify the age of those who purchase online? A senator from New York has a plan on how web sites that sell cigarettes can verify the ages of those who purchase online:
Schumer's plan would require customers buying cigarettes to type in driver's license or other state identification numbers, which the vendor would check against existing databases.

Delivery workers would then be required to verify the ages of those receiving the cigarettes, Schumer said. He said sites that sell cigarettes to minors would be shut down.
Yesterday, the senator had the assistance of his 13 year-old daughter in demonstrating how easy it is for teens to purchase online. She went through the motions of ordering at a site that sells tobacco products, but stopped before the actual purchase because, according to her father, "it's illegal to do." Then again, the reason she didn't make a final purchase may have also had to do with 13 year-olds rarely having credit cards...

I'm not thrilled with the idea of web site owners involved in ecommerce having access to a database of driver's licenses. I don't realistically expect that Federal Express or the UPS will engage in age verification upon delivery.

The Federal Government has advocated an age verification system based upon credit card ownership in legislation such as the Communications Decency Act or the Child Online Protection Act when it comes to pornography. Wired Magazine ran a response to that practice last month called Why Online Age Checks Don't Work?. Credit card companies have been issuing cards to people as young as 16.

Then again, the Senator inadvertently demonstrated another way to regulate the sales of tobacco based upon age when he halted his daughter's purchase because "it's illegal to do."

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