With less than seven months until new ‘Track and Trace’ regulations for tobacco products are implemented on 20 May 2019, concerns are mounting about the lack of communication and clarity around how the changes will affect convenience retailers and the time they will have to prepare.

Forming part of the EU Tobacco Products Directive (EUTPD) the regulations are designed to curb the illicit trade by introducing a new method of tracking the sale of legitimate tobacco products through the supply chain.

As part of the regulations, all UK retailers will need to have two new codes, without which they will not be able to buy tobacco legally.

Retailers will have to apply to the UK’s new ID Issuer in order to receive the codes - an ‘economic operator identifier code’ for their business and a ‘facility identifier code’ for each of their stores.

However, a spokesman for HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) told Convenience Store that it was still in the process of appointing the ID Issuer.

“Once the ID issuer has been appointed, HMRC will develop and publish the guidance for applying for the identifier codes,” he added.

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) said it was “concerned” about the time-scales.

“We continue to call for clarity on how and when retailers will have to apply for their economic operator and facility identifier codes,” ACS chief executive James Lowman added.

“We are working closely with HMRC to put in place a common sense approach to the implementation of the regulations, which are an important intervention against the illicit tobacco trade.”

Jonathan James, director of James Convenience Retail also called for urgent clarity. “Retailers are still mostly in the dark when it comes to Track and Trace,” he said.

“Implementation is less than seven months away and what I would hate is for store owners to just sleepwalk into this and suddenly realise too late that they have a big problem on their hands and can’t buy tobacco because they don’t have all the necessary codes.”

Bipin Harria, owner of Seaford News in West Sussex, also said he was concerned.

“I’ve had no official information on this yet and I hope it’s not a mad scramble at the last minute to get the codes. It sounds like more red tape for us retailers which is always challenging but in the long run it will hopefully be a positive move.

“Anything that helps combat the illicit trade has got to be welcomed as it’s such a big problem that is really harming hard-working legitimate retailers,” he added.

Chris Street, head of sales and marketing operations at Imperial Tobacco, said it would help retailers prepare for the change.

“As with the implementation of standardised packaging in 2017, we are committed to working with and supporting the trade during this time of change and encourage our customers to contact their Imperial Tobacco representative if they require more information.

“However, it is the responsibility of independent retailers, wholesalers, and cash and carries to ensure that they comply with the regulations by the deadlines stated,” he added.

A spokesman for JTI added: “Businesses should look out for further information from HMRC when the ID issuer has been appointed and the process for requesting IDs has been confirmed.”