UK trials have begun of an e-cigarette that can be locked to prevent anyone but its owner puffing on it.
The Juul C1 e-cigarette pairs with an Android smartphone to limit who can use it as well as to provide a way of monitoring how often the user vapes.
Juul said the C1 could only be used if people got through age-verification and face-recognition checks.
But anti-smoking campaigners said it was too soon to say if the tech would do much to prevent underage vaping.
Juul has previously faced criticism that its products are being widely used by teenagers.
Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the number of high-school teenagers using e-cigarettes had become an “epidemic”.
It said that about 21% of US school students had vaped at least once in 2018.
In the UK, figures from anti-smoking charity Ash suggest about 15.4% of 11-18 year olds in Britain have tried e-cigarettes. About 1.6% of the same age groups use them more than once a week.
In 2018, the FDA called on Juul and four other makers of vaping devices to submit plans to help stop teenagers using their products.
In June, San Francisco banned vaping, making it illegal for shops to sell e-cigarettes and forbidding online firms from delivering them to addresses in the city.
Juul UK boss Dan Thomson told the Financial Times newspaper that the C1 could only be bought and used after customers went through “stringent checks” to verify their age and identity.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Ash, said the C1 had the “potential” to prevent younger people getting access to e-cigarettes.
But she added: “There’s also the risk that e-cig companies could be hiding behind the promise of child protection and personalisation of the product, while in practice signing their customers up to a marketing tool which, worse still, gives them access personal health information on an individual level.”
“Requiring adherence to data protection laws to prevent this from happening is essential and needs to be carefully monitored,” said Ms Arnott.
Mr Thomson said the locking system for the e-cigarette could be set to automatically switch on when it was not being used or was away from the phone to which it was linked.
Juul said it was also looking at updates for its app that would stop the C1 being used in public areas such as schools.
Via the app, owners will be able to monitor:
- how often they vape
- how many puffs they take
- locate their device if it is lost
Juul acknowledged that it does gather the data itself, but said it was only to help manage customers’ use of its products. It said it would not sell or share the information without users’ explicit permission.
A similar app-controlled e-cigarette called the Vype iSwitch made by British American Tobacco went on sale in the UK in December.