Who best to tackle underage drinking and smoking? High street banks…

When I join an organisation like a library or gym I’m often asked by the receptionist to “stand still for a moment” or “just look over here”.  There’s a quick printing and I’m handed a membership card with a startled looking photo of myself on it.

This always sets me wondering: why don’t banks do this? Why doesn’t my debit card have a photo of me on it? From the point of the view of the banks it’s a remarkably cheap service and it can only reduce fraud.

But in fact, why stop there?

For people who are over 18, put a blue border around the card.  Suddenly we’ve solved underage buying of alcohol and cigarettes. You don’t even have to use the card: I show the shop keeper my bank card with my picture on it. It’s got a border that says I’m over 18.  Natwest is vouching for me.

You don’t have to buy with that card, just take the card with you. The shop/nightclub/pub can check you’ve got the card you should have by checking your PIN with a device that works like one of these:

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 17.21.53There’s no privacy risk – because those things don’t have to (and shouldn’t) record any information, the computation happens all on the card.

Yes, people could swap around the cards… but really… while people might, say, lend their little brother their passport for the evening (you can be reasonably sure that they will go to the pub, not Tunisia), they might balk at giving someone else their bank card and PIN.

PASS says a third of the 1.6 million 18 and 19-year-olds in the UK don’t have any official form of proof of age. But 91% of the UK adult population have a debit card(and I suspect that’s higher for young people) and letting banks (which have all the information anyway) validate people’s age might solve a host of problems regarding underage purchase. I’m a fan of data, so let’s look at a graph (lifted from this page) – which gives a summary of a study, carried out by Professor Paul Willner and his colleagues at the University of Wales, Swansea, about how easy it is to purchase alcohol if you are 16 or under.

graph showing how easy to buy drink while underage - no accessible version found

This data is now 14 years old.  Which means that a girl born when the survey was done, now has a 40% chance of being able to buy alcohol in any given shop she walks into.

I’m all in favor of changing the law if that’s better – but I don’t think anyone can argue that the current system is working.

To finish up, there are uglier sides to the ID issue. Accepted ID’s (in addition to the PASS scheme which even they admit is regularly ignored) are driving licenses and passports. Which is great if you are 18 and middle class because you are probably learning to drive and you’ve been going on interesting holidays for years. But if you are unlikely to be able to afford a car, and your family holidays were to Butlins (I have fond memories of Butlins), and you’ve got no chance of affording driving lessons – then it’s pretty likely that you don’t get to moan about it in the pub either.

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