Expert Group set to meet to discuss delay to EU’s tobacco traceability system

A Commission Expert Group, including representatives of the executive’s health directorate and member states, will meet on Friday to discuss the EU’s tobacco traceability system.

A European Union directive requires member states to gradually introduce systems providing for tobacco traceability and security from May 20.

With concern mounting about the likelihood of member states meeting the deadline for implementation, the meeting in Brussels will discuss the delay and the next steps.

The deadline for implementation ends next month,on 20 May, and the Commission and member states have already reported that there are already delays in the process.

The minutes of a meeting of the Expert Group that were published on Wednesday are said to show that many members states are still far from being ready.

It is claimed that the European Commission knew that the implementation was “unrealistic” and would not take place on time.

For the system to be operational, each EU country needs to appoint an organisation (ID issuers) that will generate unique identification codes to be put on packs of tobacco products. 

It is argued that, while countries have in theory until May 6 to do so, the so-called ID issuers could not be operational as soon as they are appointed, as the organisations would still need to run technical tests and preparations. This means that by 20 May all ID issuers need to be appointed, the operational tests were carried out and manufacturers have had sufficient time and resources to make sure that their system is in line with that of the ID issuer. Once this is put in place, the retailers will also need to register and have codes for each tobacco products, which takes even more time and makes impossible to accomplish the deadline.

At a meeting of the group of experts on tobacco policy at the start of the year, the Commission pointed out the appointment of ID issuers, or independent organisations, should be made without any delay and if this does not occur by the deadline the Commission will start infringement procedures. 

Last month, the Commission listed nine EU countries at “high risk” of failing to establish an operational ID issuer on time: Belgium, Estonia, Finland, France, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden. Eight more countries were at moderate risk, including Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Spain and the U.K.

An EU insider told this website, “The Commission did not listen to the warnings coming from industry and other stakeholders since the adoption of the Directive in 2014. Everyone involved in the implementation of the track-and-trace system from tobacco companies to retailers warned that it will be challenging to make it functional across all countries in such a short time.”

The European Smoking Tobacco Association, or ESTA, is among those who have been critical of the proposed tracing system, saying that this “secondary legislation is a clear example of bad law-making, and is far removed from the Commission’s avowed commitment to better regulation.

“Ultimately, implementing this tracking & tracing system will be extremely costly for mid-sized and smaller firms, risking further market consolidation.”

No one from the commission was immediately available for comment.

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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