[FOUNTAIN]Old machines adapt to a less trusting milieu

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[FOUNTAIN]Old machines adapt to a less trusting milieu

Vending machines have become an essential part of everyday life, but they are hardly a modern invention. The first was an ancient Egyptian invention to sell holy water in Alexandria in 215 B.C. The weight of an inserted coin would open the water jug for a set amount of time.
A tobacco vending machine invented in England in 1615 is the oldest existing model. If a penny were inserted into a slot at the top of a small box, the lid could be opened. The user would take out a pipeful of tobacco and close the lid; the machine was called an “honor box.”
As the Western world went through the industrial revolution in the 19th century, other machines were invented. In Utah in 1895, you could purchase a divorce application form at a vending machine.
In the 20th century, the United States and Japan established themselves as the leaders in the vending machine industry. The United States has the largest number of vending machines, over 7 million, while Japan has 6.5 million units. But considering the population size, Japan has far more vending machines per head. The vending machine industry is so large in Japan that it accounts for over 7 trillion yen a year in revenue.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare announced that the 2,600 tobacco vending machines around the country would be equipped with a device that recognizes adults. Underage customers would not be able to purchase cigarettes easily from the vending machines. While the original tobacco vending machine relied on customers’ honesty, the modern version does not fully trust the integrity of the customers.
Japan was first to promote similar regulations. Chiba prefecture has been testing 180 cigarette vending machines equipped with adult recognition functions. The local health authority distributed cards with embedded chips to adults, who can purchase cigarettes only after flashing the card at the reader on the vending machine.
But a minor can always borrow ID cards from adults. A plan to confirm one’s identity with fingerprints is being discussed, but privacy is an issue as well.
How will Koreans react to the new system? Vending machines might demand identification as the undercover patrolmen used to do during the authoritarian military regimes. That would surely ruin the craving for a cigarette.


by Nahm Yoon-ho

The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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