EU introduces revolutionary new tracking system for cigarette packs today

20 May 2019

EU introduces revolutionary new tracking system for cigarette packs today

From today all cigarette packs manufactured in, or imported into, the EU (including the UK) must be marked with unique codes enabling identification and tracing of any cigarettes which are being sold illegally. [1]

There is a 12 month sell-through period during which supplies of stock that has been manufactured or imported before 20th May can be sold, but retailers need to make sure they comply to the new law. [2]

ASH welcomes the new measures, known as the tobacco traceability system and security features, saying it is a much-needed tool to clamp down on the illegal tobacco trade. Together with over 120 health organisations [3] ASH has also called for retailers to be licensed to help prevent underage sales, a measure supported by 69% of retailers [4] and 81% of the British public with only 4% opposing.[5]

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity ASH, said

“From today, in a global first, cigarette packs made or imported into the EU will all be individually marked. Enforcement authorities will be able to tell immediately whether cigarettes are legal or not, once the system is rolled out. But the UK government needs to do more. Retailers and the public also support the introduction of retail licensing, which would make enforcement easier and help law abiding retailers.”

Surveys funded by the tobacco industry itself show that 58% of illicit tobacco in the EU are products of transnational tobacco manufacturers, with tobacco manufacturers being among the main actors benefiting from the illicit cigarette trade. [6] The EU system is part of a new wider international system which will require all Parties to it, not just the EU, to implement such measures. [7] This will be a major step forward in preventing illegal tobacco from being sold in our communities, whether it is authentic or counterfeit, and whether it comes from the EU or elsewhere.

From today, packets of cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco manufactured in or imported into the UK must have a new anti-tamper proof security label and must be marked with a unique code which holds information on the location and date of manufacture.  The products must be scanned at each stage in the supply chain, from manufacture or importation to the first retail outlet.

Retailers who sell tobacco products to the public need to take action to comply with requirements.  This includes requesting the necessary economic operator codes to enable them to sell tobacco legally.  Retailers are urged to look on the Government’s website to ensure they are up to date with the rules.[2]

As well as potentially losing their ability to sell tobacco, their alcohol licence or lottery terminal, shopkeepers who sell illegal tobacco can also face hefty fines or imprisonment.

As a result of an aggressive anti-smuggling strategy put in place by the UK Government, the amount of illegal tobacco smoked in the UK has fallen since it peaked in 2000. In 2017 illegal tobacco made up 15% of the market for factory-made cigarettes and 28% for hand-rolled tobacco, compared to 2000 when it was 22% of factory-made and 61% of hand-rolled tobacco. And at that time many more people smoked so it was a higher proportion of a larger market.[6]  However, the illicit market is still significant and while all smoked tobacco is equally deadly, the availability of cheap, illegal tobacco means that young people have greater access to cigarettes and provides less incentive for smokers to quit.

Anyone with information about houses, shops, pubs or individuals selling illegal tobacco can give information online at or by calling the illegal tobacco hotline at 0300 999 00 00.  All information will be treated anonymously and nearly 2,000 pieces of information have been shared since November 2017.



Notes to editors:

What retailers need to do to

You must request an economic operator identifier code (EOID) for your business and facility identifier codes (FID) for each location at which you sell or store cigarettes or hand rolling tobacco.

To get an EOID and an FID code, you must create an account with the UK’s ID Issuer ‘De La Rue’ on the ID Issuer portal at  To do this, you must select ‘Create an Account’ and complete the information on screen. Once you have created an account you will have access to the ID Issuer Portal user guide and FAQs.

You must notify De La Rue of any changes to your details or business including if you stop supplying cigarettes or hand rolling tobacco.

You do not need to scan the goods on receipt at the location they are placed on sale to the public.

About Action on Smoking and Health:

Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. For more information see:

ASH receives funding for its programme of work from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.

Media contacts:

ASH staff are available for interview and have an ISDN line. For more information send an email to or ring 020 7404 0242. Out of hours contact Deborah Arnott (Chief Executive, ASH) on 07976 935 987 or Ciaran Osborne (Director of Policy, ASH) on 07921 502181.


[1] Further detail can be found on at

[2] Guidance for retailers. See

[3] Smoking Still Kills. ASH. London. 2015

[4] Counter arguments: How important is tobacco to small retailers? ASH October 2016

[5]  2019 Total sample size was 12,393 adults in Great Britain. Fieldwork was undertaken online by YouGov between 12th February 2017 and 10th March 2019. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all adults (aged 18+). Question: “Below is a suggestion that has been made to reduce smoking. How strongly, if at all, would you support or oppose the following measure…? – Requiring businesses to have a valid licence to sell tobacco which can be removed if they are caught more than once selling to underage smokers”.

[6] World Bank. 2019. Confronting Illicit Tobacco Trade : a Global Review of Country Experiences. UK chapter: Tackling illicit tobacco. WBG Global Tobacco Control Program. Washington, D.C. : World Bank Group.

[7] WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Protocol to eliminate Illicit trade in Tobacco.