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Age Assurance for Online Vaping Sites

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Easier age assurance comes ahead of anticipated government crackdown

A smart, new plugin from Luciditi can help suppliers of online vape products stay on the right side of the law. It comes amid growing pressure to stop children accessing e-cigarettes, amid concerns about the long-term impact on young people’s lungs, hearts, and brains.

Data from campaigners Action on Smoking and Health shows that experimental use of e-cigarettes among 11-to-17-year-olds is up 50% on last year. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has repeatedly expressed concerns about the potential damage to young people’s health caused by vaping.

On June 6, the RCPCH called for an outright ban on single-use e-cigarettes. Disposable vapes can be bought for just £1.99 and are especially popular among young people. Dr Mike McKean, the RCPCH vice-president and a paediatric respiratory consultant, said concerns stem from the “epidemic” of child vaping and the small but growing numbers of children with respiratory problems.

It’s illegal for anyone under 18 to buy or use a vape in the UK. But restrictions are easily sidestepped, both on the high street and online. In April, health minister Neil O’Brien launched a £3 million ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad’, targeting high street retail. Clamping down on illicit online sales is an inevitable next step.

Ground-breaking age assurance plugin

Responsible online suppliers face a dilemma. They depend on an easy sales process where adults can quickly find and buy what they want. Simultaneously, they must also identify and exclude youngsters.

Many websites have little choice but to use a self-asserting button, asking potential customers whether they’re aged 18 or over. Kids click yes, and they’re in. It’s like a door in a nightclub where instead of doormen checking ID there’s a small sign asking ‘are you 18?’

Now, a ground-breaking plugin from Luciditi offers a proven and cost-effective alternative. The first of its kind, the plugin gives websites a reliable, quick and streamlined route to age assurance.

The Luciditi Age Assurance plugin uses AI that is currently trusted by clients in a range of age-restricted industries.   Using military-grade security and built by a team whose roots can be traced to software that protects the clinical documents of two-thirds of the UK population, Birmingham-based developers Arissian.

Until now, businesses wanting to embed age assurance tech in their website have had to go the long way round, involving additional coding.  Attempting this work in-house has huge implications in time and money. By downloading the Luciditi plugin for WordPress and setting up a Luciditi business account, companies looking for a simpler solution can now upgrade their age assurance without embarking on an IT project.

Simple as a selfie

“Setup is a piece of cake”, says Ian Moody, Arissian’s MD and co-founder, “once you’ve set the minimum age, and added the API key and company logo, your entire site is age-restricted.”

The plugin generates a landing page, with a greeting (written by the client) and a request for a selfie. Luciditi’s digital identity technology examines the image and estimates whether the person appears older than 18 (or whatever age you choose), in a process that takes just a few seconds. Adults are then allowed unrestricted access to the site.

Luciditi’s cutting-edge ‘liveness’ technology prevents attempts to spoof a selfie. So-called presentation attacks are weeded out by counter-measures that spot printed photos, cutout masks, digital and video replay attacks, and 3D latex masks.

“The plugin operates with minimum friction”, explains Ian Moody, “only challenging visitors for proof when necessary. Age assurance is bypassed for future visits using the same browser.”

Only people who look around the specified age are likely to be asked for proof of age.  They are guided through an extra step which confirms their date of birth by supplying an image of government-approved ID. A match against the ID document photo confirms that they are the document holder.   However, this data goes no further than Luciditi.

Anonymity guaranteed 

Having verified a person’s age, the app then simply sends a nod of approval to the plugin without revealing any further information, it doesn’t even release the date of birth. The plugin doesn’t store selfies, biometric data that enables age-estimation, names, addresses, dates of birth, or any ID document details.  Despite supplying a selfie or ID data, anyone buying vape products from a protected site will remain anonymous.

Users who have already verified their identity in the Luciditi app can access a protected website with a few taps, without needing a selfie or ID documents. Having given their data to the app, users can access any age-restricted website that relies on Luciditi’s tech, knowing that their personal details are securely protected and will never be sent to a third party.

For a modest annual subscription, paid monthly, vendors can find peace of mind knowing that they’ve put themselves and their business on the right side of the law, amid mounting pressure for action against sites that put children at risk.

A catalyst for change

The RCPH’s call for a ban on disposable vapes would bring the UK more closely in line with comparable countries. New Zealand has recently banned most disposable vapes, Australia has made vaping prescription-only, and tight restrictions have been implemented in Scotland, France, Germany and Ireland.

The RCPCH’s call came on the final day of a two-month trawl for ideas on restricting under-age vaping. The consultation, led by the Department of Health, should be “the catalyst for change that is so urgently needed”, said the children’s commissioner for England, Rachel de Souza. Ministers are now considering this new evidence ahead of potential further steps in tightening the law.

Evidence submitted to the government includes data from compliance auditing firm Serve Legal. Having conducted over 22,000 e-cigarette purchases since January 2021, in-store and online, Serve Legal found that “one in four auditors are being sold e-cigarettes without being asked for age verification or identification.”

Three days after the RCPCH’s call for a ban on disposable vapes, Rachel de Souza echoed their demand and urged ministers to crack down on the marketing of vapes to young people. De Souza said: “We urgently need stricter regulation of this ‘wild west’ market. It is insidious that these products are intentionally marketed and promoted to children, both online and offline.”

In the face of mounting pressure, it’s a matter of when rather than if the government will take tougher action against websites that continue to put children’s health at risk. Luciditi’s plugin is an easy solution for vendors who share their concern.

Want to know more?

If you would like to learn more or try out the Luciditi Age Assurance Plugin for WordPress or understand how Luciditi Age Assurance technology can help your website or business, contact us for a chat today.

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Cut online sales of vape products to children

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Digital ID platform Luciditi is supporting moves to restrict vaping among children and teenagers – which is at ‘epidemic’ levels according to a senior health official. Doctors fear that without urgent action a generation could develop long-term addictions and lung damage. Health ministers are calling for ideas on how to clamp down on the illegal sale of e-cigarettes to under 18s. In response, Luciditi is ready to suggest solutions based on its pioneering age assurance tech.

Vaping is becoming an epidemic among teenagers, according to Dr Mike McKean, vice-president of policy for the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health. In 2021, a survey from campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) of 2,109 children and teens found that 11.2% of 11-17 year olds had tried vaping. By 2022, this had risen to 15.8%. Among 18-year-olds, 40.8% said they have tried an e-cigarette.

The ASH survey stresses that the vast majority of children (83.8%) have never tried or are unaware of e-cigarettes, nevertheless the figures suggest that more than 800,000 children in the UK have illegally accessed a product that can contain nicotine. According to the US government’s Centers for Disease Control, ‘most e-cigarettes contain nicotine. Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.’

In recent years, under-age use of tobacco cigarettes in the UK has been falling, in line with long-term downward trends. Yet little is being done to effectively curb the marketing and selling of vape products to teenagers. Regulations restricting the age-group’s online access to e-cigarettes are not easily enforced.

Illicit vapes enforcement squad

While the sale of tobacco and e-cigarettes to people under the age of 18 is an offence, ASH found that children continue to be sold both. Among children buying both products online, ASH found that purchases of e-cigarettes (10%) are much more common than tobacco cigarettes (4%).

Children would be better protected by tougher enforcement of online age restrictions, which could be supported by Luciditi’s developments in artificial intelligence. Luciditi would allow easy access to vape sites for anyone over 18 while helping to safeguard children’s health.

In April 2023, the government announced that £3m will be invested in an ‘illicit vapes enforcement squad‘, led by Trading Standards officers. This will initially conduct test purchases and remove banned products from shops and at borders, but the government is also looking for other ways of restricting sales.

The Health Department is calling for evidence to “identify opportunities to reduce the number of children accessing and using vapes, while ensuring they remain available as a quit aid for adult smokers.” In response, Ian Moody, Luciditi CEO, said: “The need for a workable twin-track approach, assisting adults while helping children, is something that Luciditi is well equipped to support.”

The government’s new measures are backed by the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA). John Dunne, Director General of the UKVIA, said: “The law is absolutely clear – it is illegal to sell vapes to U18 year olds and therefore it is a criminal offence to do so…There is no doubt that action directed at those illegally selling vape products to children is the way forward.”

Using age assurance to restrict under-age sales

Online sales to children could be reduced by requiring vape websites to restrict access via a secure, digital gateway. This would be better than the revolving door that many currently favour, in the form of a flimsy ‘security question’ along the lines of ‘are you of legal smoking age?’ When it comes to online age restrictions, kids are effectively being asked to mark their own homework.

A digital gateway such as Luciditi would give vendors the assurance they need that users were aged 18 or older. Currently supporting businesses in a range of sectors, Luciditi’s configurable user interface tech can be readily dropped into any website or app.

Luciditi offers two options in managing age assurance. The quickest way of automatically recognising adults and allowing them access is via age estimation. The user simply takes a selfie through their webcam or mobile and the Luciditi Age Estimation feature takes care of the rest.

Supported by an ethical and continually trained machine-learning model, the system is highly capable of telling the difference between children and adults. By verifying ‘liveness’ of the individual, Luciditi is able to recognise and reject manipulated images, latex masks and other spoofing attempts.

Once a vendor has adopted Luciditi’s tech, users can quickly and freely access the website. Some businesses might be able to qualify more than two-thirds of users through estimation, depending on their average age.

A rounded approach to restrictions

Estimation technology decides whether a user fits into the appropriate age-range. Working with a tolerance of plus or minus six years, Luciditi grants swift access to the vast majority of adults. For those at the younger end of the range, Luciditi’s second option in age assurance is initiated automatically. This relies on verification, confirmed via proof of age.

Using a suitable form of ID, the app scans the document, verifies that it’s genuine and that it belongs to the holder in a quick and free process proving their age. Protected by Luciditi’s military-grade security, the data is never forwarded to anyone or anywhere else. Vendors would never see customers’ data. They simply receive instant assurance from Luciditi that the customer is older than 18.

Luciditi Age Assurance

Users who already hold a free Luciditi account, can securely access websites requiring age verification simply by giving approval to a notification sent to their device – without having to scan ID documents or release personal data. Given the often Wild West ways of the internet, the secure protection of data is essential. Thin regulations are hard to enforce and users can’t always be sure who they’re buying from. By restricting access to their personal data, users cut the risk of identity fraud by making it harder for unauthorised third parties to get hold of personal information, whether accidentally or deliberately.

Luciditi’s capabilities could help sites that are struggling to reduce vape sales to children. For health minister Neil O’Brien, the call for action is designed to “clamp down” on those businesses that are “getting children hooked on nicotine. Our call for evidence will also allow us to get a firm understanding of the steps we can take to reduce the number of children accessing and using vapes.”

However, health officials say more still needs to be done. Dr Mike McKean said: “We’re relieved that the UK government has started to focus on the rising levels of children and young people picking up e-cigarettes, but an enforcement squad is just the tip of the iceberg.”

While the government’s announcement initially targets shops and borders, this may prove a hollow victory if online sales are allowed to continue untouched. Luciditi’s Ian Moody believes that: “Age assurance tech can support an online component of the government’s new measures.” A rounded approach is necessary, working both in retail and online. Without it, kids will continue to experiment, sparking further concerns about their long-term health.

Want to know more?

If you would like to find out how Luciditi Age Assurance technology can help contact us for a chat today.
Restrict e-Cigarettes to adults

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