Brown & Williamson Tests High-Tech Vending Machines

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Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. began a pilot test of interactive vending machines to ensure that only adults gain access to the cigarettes, the company said yesterday.

Nightclubs and other adult-oriented venues in Cleveland and Los Angeles are the first to test the machines developed by the nation's third-largest tobacco company and Marconi Online Systems.

"We've developed a 21st-century solution to an age-old problem," said Todd Hanke, manager of e-business for the maker of KOOL, Pall Mall and Lucky Strike cigarettes.

Hanke said the machines use an age-verification process developed by the two companies. Brown & Williamson is trademarking the process known as "E-Check," which allows a sale only after age is verified electronically through a valid driver's license and credit card. At the same time, the new vending machines feature five computer-generated talking salespeople who engage consumers in edgy dialogue.

Steve Rogers, Brown & Williamson's manager of distribution and vending, said the machines "not only turn away underage smokers, they provide adult smokers with competitive prices and promotions," he said. "The high-tech machines remember the customer and can offer discounts based on the adult smoker's purchase history."

For example, the virtual sales clerk might offer a discounted price or a free pack to a repeat customer if they buy one pack.

"The machine may also encourage an adult smoker of a competitive brand to try a Brown & Williamson product," Rogers said.

In the pilot, Brown & Williamson, Louisville, KY, is working with vending machine operators Priority Vending in Cleveland and T.D. Rowe Amusements in Los Angeles.

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