Background: Starting from 1 January 2007, electronic locking devices based on proof-of-age (via electronic cash cards or a European driving licence) were installed in approximately 500 000 vending machines across Germany to restrict the purchase of cigarettes to those over the age of 16.
Objective: To examine changes in the number of tobacco vending machines before and after the introduction of these new measures.
Design: The total number of commercial tobacco sources in 2 selected districts (70 000 inhabitants) in Cologne were recorded and mapped. This major German city was the ideal setting for this study as investigators were able to use existing sociogeographical data from the area. A complete inventory was compiled in autumn 2005 and 2007. A total of 780 students aged 12 to 15 were also interviewed in the study areas. The main outcome measures were quantities and locations of commercial tobacco sources.
Results: Between 2005 and 2007 the total number of tobacco sources decreased from 315 to 277 within the study area. Although the most obvious reduction was detected in the number of outdoor vending machines (−48%), the number of indoor vending machines also decreased by 8%. Adolescents changed from vending machines to other sources for cigarettes, particularly kiosks or friends (+31% points usage rate, p<0.001; +35% points usage rate, p<0.001, respectively).
Conclusions: Although the number of tobacco vending machines decreased, this has not had a significant impact on cigarette acquisition by underage smokers as they were able to circumvent this new security measure in several different ways.
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Competing interests: None.