Since the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) – one of the ‘most lobbied’ files in Brussels history – was agreed in 2014, the Commission have been working to set the rules for tracking and tracing tobacco products and adding security features, in accordance with Articles 15 and 16.

This process of delegated and implementing acts to set the technical standards has been a slow one, and participants seem to be running out of patience.

After three years of stockholder workshops, multiple consultancy reports and member state expert groups, the end product still isn’t in sight. And what the Commission has shared looks likely to create a massive and unnecessary burden on small and mid-sized companies throughout the chain.

At the latest stakeholder workshop took place on Monday 15 May, small solution providers pleaded for the Commission to decide on a track and trace system as national procurement procedures are at a standstill.  Small- and medium-enterprise companies believe they will be handicapped by having to work with many third parties along the supply chain, and are worried that many of the technical measures will add hugely to their costs. The tobacco industry, economic operators and others along the supply chain are concerned they will be unable to implement the system in the short timeframe that’s left before the deadline in May 2019.

And now, the Commission has just confirmed that DG SANTE, the directorate general in charge of these discussions, has changed several key positions.

Anna-Eva Ampelas, currently the Head-of-Unit tasked with tobacco control, and the chair of the stakeholder workshops is moving to replace a colleague moving to OLAF as Head-of-Unit for pharmaceuticals, health technology assessment and substances of human origin. Mrs Ampelas has held her current role for the entire life of the TPD2 and has been a strong advocate for the complete implementation of the Directive. Is this change of position an indication that the Commission is not prioritising track and trace?

Tobacco smuggling is big business, and a good track and trace system can help eliminate criminality. Consumers need to know that the tobacco they are purchasing from a reputable retailer is legal and has gone through the appropriate channels of verification. The longer it takes, the more the consumer is in danger. The longer the delay the more European taxpayers billions are syphoned into smugglers’ pockets. The Commission needs to prioritise implementing an effective track and trace system that is effective and not unwieldy, doesn’t punish small business or crush them with added costs, and ensures the that customers are protected from illegal products and the criminals that profit from them.