Illegal cigarette trade generates billions of tax losses for the EU. The introduction of Track and Trace systems is hoped to put an end to this. Photo: Domino
Track and Trace for Tobacco Packaging
It is not only in the pharmaceutical industry that the traceability of products – also known as track & trace – plays a relevant role for protecting consumers. According to the EU Commission, precise identification of all packaging is indispensable. Therefore, manufacturers now comply with the EU Directive 2014/40/EU, the latest amendment of which was adopted in May 2014. Within a period of five years the industry is expected to have implemented a complete track and trace system for cigarette and fine-cut products. This time window will “close” in May 2019. The tobacco industry considers this deadline too short for implementing all the necessary measures.
Specific technologies integrated into every individual manufacturing step are called for to uniquely identify packets, bundles and master cases. The challenge is to fit plenty of information onto the packaging while also providing sufficient storage space on the data carriers required for traceability. Up to fifty characters are to be saved in future; this means that the labeling process for the boxes will become substantially longer. This is a decisive factor for the tobacco industry where fast production lines and high yields are a must. Some high-speed lines run 1,000 packs per minute through the machine.
The legislation brings an additional challenge for manufacturers in the EU. EU member states are allowed to specify the code format on the packaging for their specific countries. In the EU packaging is predominantly encoded with lasers – here 2D codes as a data matrix, dot codes or QR-Codes are accepted.
Since manufacturers orient their production lines towards several markets as a rule, the machines must be capable of printing 30, 40 or 60 characters on data carriers. In some countries such as Australia packaging design regulations do not even allow the application of codes, to start with. In other cases, such as some snuff tobacco packaging formats, there is not even enough space for the code on the packaging.
The EU Directive 2014/40/EU stipulates that packaging of tobacco products must feature a unique identification comparable to pharmaceutical packaging from May 2019. Photo: Domino
The IT infrastructure also has to be designed accordingly. Existing encoders must also be adapted and/or extended with additional encoding equipment. This is associated with major capital investment. To share best practices and jointly drive solutions several multi-national producers have joined the forces in DCTA, the Digital Coding and Tracking Association.
However, by industry accounts, there is no smuggling of cigarettes and cigarillos. This packaging will in future also be subject to the traceability system. Photo: Breakingpic, https://www.pexels.com/photo/autumn-cigarettes-hazelnuts-smoking-2975/
The EU tobacco directive
Tobacco products are by far the most heavily regulated consumer goods in the EU. The measures range from advertising bans and the establishment of non-smoking zones in public squares to warning notes on tobacco packaging. Since 2001 the TPD, Tobacco Packaging Directive, has been in force. In the years following this tobacco packaging featured warning messages and a black loop across the EU. Descriptions like “mild” and “light” were removed.
2014 saw the revision of the directive – the co-called TPD2 – enter into force. This is why stricter rules for packaging have applied since May 2016. 65% of the packaging surface must feature a warning image and texts. The member states were also allowed to introduce uniform packaging all the more as in Australia only tobacco packaging with the brand name has been allowed since 2012. In France, Hungary, Ireland, Slovenia, Norway and Great Britain only packaging without a brand imprint is available in retail.
In some countries inside and outside the EU only uniform packaging without brand symbols is sold. In Norway, for example. Photo: Helsedirektoratet