Retailers have been warned to clear through non-compliant stock ahead of the 20 May track-and-trace deadline.

Figures from HMRC released to betterRetailing show that 40,590 retailers and wholesalers had successfully registered 62,384 sites to be able to legally sell and buy tobacco by the end of 2019. 

The government authority said: “We expect that the vast majority of businesses who need to register for EOIDs and FIDs have now done so.”

Despite most stores being registered with three months to go until the deadline, a betterRetailing survey of 39 shop owners showed 70% still had non-compliant stock in their gantry.

A further 10% were unsure whether they had non-compliant stock.

Track and trace suspension sparks wholesaler fury

Natalie Lightfoot, of Londis Solo Convenience in Glasgow, said that barriers remain to the selling through of non-compliant stock. “We have less choice from our wholesalers – you order products and they come in non-track-and-trace-compliant versions,” she said.

An analysis of 383 cigarette online listings available from the UK’s three largest tobacco wholesalers confirmed the issue. Nearly 40% were not identified as being track-and-trace-compliant. 

The problem was confirmed by Scottish Wholesale Association chief executive Colin Smith, who told betterRetailing that some manufacturers were still supplying wholesalers with non-compliant stock. He warned: “Time to clear stock is dependent on the wholesaler and their rate of sale. 

“Our concern would be that it’s the smaller wholesaler that may suffer and pay the price, especially if suppliers aren’t willing to take stock back, which we would urge them to do to assist our members.”

All four major tobacco firms have pledged to swap out menthol stock after the same 20 May deadline for the menthol ban

Hidden documents highlight track and trace flaws

Asked if it would extend its menthol swap-out to include track-and-trace stock, JTI communications director Mark Yexley told betterRetailing: “Retailers have had a year to sell-through non-track-and-trace stock, which should be sufficient. 

“We urge retailers to use the remaining three months to sell through all non-track-and-trace stock. Our sales force will continue to advise and assist retailers with this process.”

A spokesperson for Imperial Tobacco said the firm would only “discuss options on uplifting any non-compliant packs” with those it has worked with already to implement stock rotation.

Chief executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) James Bielby reassured stores, stating: “There’s still a long period before the deadline, and we fully expect stock will be sold through.”

Yexley confirmed that the 20 May deadline is unaffected by the Brexit transition period, but Bielby and Smith both said doubts remained over the future of the scheme beyond the end of the transition period in December.  

The FWD boss said separate UK track-and-trace systems would have to be developed, which could create a gap in which trace and trace could have to be suspended.

How to keep your tobacco sales strong while complying with the law