Track-and-trace ‘standstill period’ will leave stores unable to buy tobacco if unregistered

A leading wholesaler warned this is likely to cause disruption

Track and trace illicit tobacco cigarettes

Legitimate tobacco products are likely to return a “warning” message under track-and-trace (T&T) when scanned at cash & carries, as its new system operator takes over at the end of the month. 

From 1 July, Dentsu Tracking will be taking over from De La Rue

The company, which was appointed by HMRC under a five-year contract earlier this year, will operate a database of registered tobacco suppliers, helping to give police forces and trading standards more resources to detect and crack down on illicit stock. 

Launched in May 2019, T&T requires businesses involved in the supply of cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco to have an economic operator identifier code (EOID). 

Tobacco products transported and sold through the UK will have a barcode with an EOID, and any code not recognised by T&T will generate a warning that the product could be illegitimate. 

A spokesperson for Dentsu and HMRC told Better Retailing that to ensure reporting can continue against all products already in the supply chain, “certain validations will initially return warnings rather than errors”. 

“Such warnings tell the economic operator submitting the message that the content of the message may not be correct, but this does not prevent the economic operator from moving or selling the product,” they said. 

“During this time, businesses must still transmit all legally required reporting messages to the system and HMRC are available to check and view all associated traceability data.” 

Last week, HMRC also confirmed that from 27-30 June there will be a “standstill period” while it moves to Dentsu. 

“During this time, you will not be able to register new businesses and facilities or make changes to existing data,” it said. “You will still be able to report manufacture, sales and transport of products.” 

However, a leading wholesaler warned that retailers won’t be able to buy tobacco during that period if unregistered, and this could cause disruption. “Legally, we won’t be able to sell any tobacco to customers who haven’t registered with T&T,” they said. “The other scenario is new customers using another retailer who is registered to purchase tobacco, which is something we don’t condone.” 

In response, a spokesperson for Dentsu and HMRC told Better Retailing: “The legal requirement for retailers (and other economic operators) to be registered in the tobacco T&T system has existed since 20 May 2019. 

”A wholesaler cannot legally sell to a retailer who does not have an EOID. This rule applies today and will continue to apply when the new T&T system becomes operational on 1 July. 

“Businesses registered under the current regime with De La Rue will retain their existing EOID under the new system provided by Dentsu and will be able to purchase tobacco products – from wholesalers – using that EOID. Therefore, we do not foresee any negative impact on trading activities.” 

Last month, retailers began receiving emails notifying them of their registration onto the new system. At the time, a Dentsu spokesperson assured retailers they do not need to take any action. 

One retailer, who asked not to be named, also reported receiving an email from someone claiming to be Dentsu, which included a link asking them to input their bank details. However, Dentsu urged retailers to avoid entering these details. 

The spokesperson added: “Dentsu Tracking will never ask for your bank details or personal information and will never send you notifications requesting banking information via email, text or messenger services.” 

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