Big Tobacco squares up as EU rules aim to track every cigarette

Jun 18 2014, 12:24 IST
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SummaryIt takes a British American Tobacco factory machine three minutes to load 4 million cigarettes

It takes a British American Tobacco factory machine three minutes to load 4 million cigarettes onto a truck in northern Bavaria - but it can take a lot longer to figure out whether those cigarettes end up where they should.

So the EU is asking tobacco firms to do more to track and trace their goods, in order to tackle a huge black market and ultimately prevent some of the 700,000 deaths each year in the EU from smoking-related diseases.

The legislation, which takes effect over the next two years, is part of a package that also slaps no-holds-barred pictures of the health effects of smoking on packets, and bans menthol. Alongside it, an international treaty ratified by 178 countries - the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) - aims to ensure similar measures are introduced right across the world.

There's one problem, however: The big international tobacco firms - Philip Morris International, British American, Japan Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco already use a track and trace system called Codentify, developed by Philip Morris, which they say works perfectly well.

They do not want to have to add costly third-party systems to their massive operations, which turned out more than 2 trillion cigarettes last year.

"Our biggest concern is proprietary solution providers pushing unproven solutions on to governments," said Daniel Hubert, BAT's supply chain tracking and verification programme manager and a director of the Digital Coding & Tracking Association (DCTA), a group made up of BAT, Philip Morris, Japan Tobacco and Imperial.

But tobacco industry critics say Codentify is simply not good enough, because it focuses too much on production and does not store product codes or track them. Last year Luk Joossens, advocacy officer of the Association of European Cancer Leagues, and Anna Gilmore, director of the University of Bath's Tobacco Control Research Group, published a report listing the system's technical and ethical limitations.

"Codentify is not up to the task and worse than that, it puts the fox in charge of the hen-house," Gilmore told Reuters.

In response, Big Tobacco acknowledges that Codentify only does part of the job, and says critics fail to include third-party technology used alongside it to make it fully compliant.

EU member states have two years to bring their national legislation into line with the new tobacco directives. So most of the new rules will apply in the first half of 2016. In the interim, experts are analysing the feasibility and cost of

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