Codentify

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Codentify, is a product serialisation/pack marker system, marketed by the tobacco industry as a way to verify the authenticity of a packet of cigarettes, whether they are genuine product or counterfeit.1

Background

Codentify was originally developed and promoted by the tobacco industry as a non-secure authentication system to help determine if a tobacco product was authentic or counterfeit. It was later adapted by the industry for use as a means of verifying the tax status of tobacco products. Codentify is installed at the production line and prints unique codes on each tobacco packet. It details information about the supply chain process, including line and time of production, and adds a unique, random, set of 12 letters or numbers to each individual pack.23 The tobacco industry has been advocating for Codentify to be used as the internationally recognised standard for the tracking and tracing of tobacco products.4

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and its Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products (ITP) put technological solutions, via a global track and trace system (i.e. determining where a tobacco product was produced and following it through to the point of sale), at the heart of efforts to address the illicit tobacco trade. The ITP specifically stipulates that the tobacco industry should play no part in such a system due to documented evidence of the industry’s complicity in facilitating illicit tobacco trade.5 See: Tobacco Smuggling.

Joint Tobacco Industry Project

Image 1: A snippet from a 2012 presentation on Codentify by Daniel Hubert – former Director of the Digital Coding and Tracking Association (DCTA) and British American Tobacco’s (BAT) former global programme manager of supply chain tracking & verification67

The Codentify technology was originally developed and patented by Philip Morris International (PMI).38 Leaked tobacco industry documents have revealed that in 2010, in a highly unusual move, PMI licenced Codentify for free to its main competitors, British American Tobacco (BAT), Japan Tobacco International (JTI), and Imperial Tobacco.3

The tobacco companies began working together to promote the technology, and in 2011 formed the pan-industry working group, the DCTA, to promote Codentify as an alternative to tax stamps.2910
The DCTA has promoted the system to governments, law enforcement agencies and others, including INTERPOL, the European Union, the International Tax and Investment Center, and the World Customs Organization.23

Attempts to Influence ITP in Favour of Codentify

Use of Third Parties

Codentify has been presented by the tobacco industry as a suitable track and trace solution based on the ITP’s requirements (Image 1),3611 despite Codentify’s connections to the tobacco industry meaning that it is in breach of these requirements.4

A 45-page internal BAT document setting out the company’s campaign plan for the fifth FCTC Conference of the Parties in November 2012, where the ITP was adopted, noted BAT’s preferred outcome on tracking and tracing as “Stamping and coding should be digital (Codentify).”2 A leaked DCTA document shows that the industry anticipated resistance to Codentify, outlining that governments “need to be convinced for themselves that this Codentify is a high quality solution, which works totally under their control and supervision, and which is supplied to them by a credible third party technology company.”2 Another leaked document expressed industry awareness that the South African Department of Health “voiced its concern and will not support an “Industry solution”.2

In response, tobacco companies started using Front Groups to give the impression that Codentify was supported by independent parties (this tactic is known as a Third Party Technique). One of these groups was FractureCode, a Danish company established in 2002, offering track and trace, digital authentication and volume verification solutions including Codentify.2 BAT Whistle-blower Paul Hopkins’ Employment Tribunal documents12 state that FractureCode was “in the pay” of BAT by 2011, and leaked documents suggest that FractureCode’s roles included: “to guarantee to governments that the ‘Codentify’ system works” and “to promote and sell the system to governments”, and that FractureCode was promoting Codentify in Mauritius, Uganda and possibly Germany.2 French company ATOS, originally involved in Codentify’s development, and also named in leaked documents, may have played a similar role to FractureCode. It has promoted Codentify at the 2011 Asia-Pacific Tax Forum and been involved in the implementation of Codentify in Lithuania alongside DCTA.2

Inexto’s Role as “Front Company”

In June 2016 the DCTA sold Codentify to a company called Inexto, an affiliate of the French Impala Group, for reportedly 1 Swiss Franc only.213 A press release stated that: “a specialised and independent technology company is now best placed to further develop this technology to ensure it remains state-of-the-art and fit for purpose.”14 The European Patent Register confirmed that Inexto now owns Codentify’s European patent (identified property rights of an invention)-EP1719070.8 When the sale was reported in the press, a PMI spokesperson was cited as claiming that the system “now complies with the EU’s new Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) and the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).”15 The spokesperson further said that Inexto is now “fully independent from the tobacco industry.15

Despite the claims that Inexto is independent from the tobacco industry, Martyn Day, a Member of the UK Parliament, told Parliament in December 2016 that some groups consider Inexto to be “merely a front company and that the system is still under the effective control of the tobacco firms”.16

Inexto’s top officials are former long-time PMI employees who are credited with having created Codentify, according to patent records. Inexto’s Managing Director is Philippe Chatelain, who was PMI’s Director of Product Tracking Intelligence & Security for 14 years, and one of the inventors of Codentify.1718 The other top officials are Erwan Fradet, PMI’s Product Manager for Codentify for five and a half years,19 and Patrick Chanez, who worked for PMI for over ten years in anti-illicit trade technology research and development.2021 The three hold patents, along with PMI, to the track and trace technology.22 Importantly, PMI still owns the trademark (an identifying word, phrase, symbol, and/or design) to Codentify after the supposed take-over by Inexto.232425

Chatelain was quoted in a June 2017 ‘’EUobserver’’ article as stating that, while Codentify is “maybe not compliant” with the independence and transparency requirements of the FCTC and the TPD, he is “100 percent sure” that Inexto complies with the TPD’s requirements because “a government will have control of the machine” and the system was redeveloped “from scratch” after being transferred to Inexto.26

Concerns with Codentify

Former tobacco industry employees, NGOs, academics, and the FCTC Secretariat have criticised Codentify, arguing that it is not compliant with the ITP and is an ineffective track and trace mechanism for various reasons:

  • Codentify is inefficient when compared to other solutions that incorporate material-based security features.27
  • The adoption of the Codentify system would mean that the tobacco industry, which has a well-documented history of facilitating tobacco smuggling, would control the track and trace system which monitors tobacco smuggling.2829 This would result in a substantial component of global anti-illicit efforts ending up under tobacco industry control.30 Codentify has also been described as a “black box” that is protected by a tobacco industry patent, whereby its contents are unknown but are managed and controlled by the tobacco industry.3132
  • As the codes are visible on the packs under the Codentify system, they are easy to copy and or falsify.3
  • Codentify would not store the codes in a linked database to enable it to function as a track and trace system.32833
  • Codentify is not a tracking and tracing system. Tracking and tracing is defined in the ITP as “the systematic monitoring and re-creation by competent authorities or any other person acting on their behalf of the route or movement taken by items through the supply chain”.34 Codentify doesn’t meet the standards of several Articles in the ITP that require information on the supply chain process, including shipment date and destination and point of departure, which Codentify does not provide.3
  • Codentify seeks to abolish government-controlled tax stamps which could further take away the authority and control on tax administration from governments to the tobacco industry.3
  • Tax stamps feature physical high-security features in order to differentiate genuine codes from those that are duplicated or cloned. The key feature is the combination of digital (the unique identification code on a pack) and physical security elements (these may be overt e.g. holograms, covert e.g. fluorescent fibres, or forensic) which make new tax stamps difficult to counterfeit.2
  • Unlike Codentify, tax stamp producers, also in the business of printing secure documents for government (passports, ID documents, currency), are subject to international standards that control their production and distribution processes.2
  • An FCTC review of track and trace systems, including Codentify, stated that independent audits would be necessary in order to ensure that the verification system could not be easily breached.35 With tobacco companies refusing to commit to such a measure, Codentify is a cause for concern.3
  • A former tobacco factory employee alleged that Codentify is flawed as, while codes link back to the factory where cigarettes packs are produced, the codes are not stored, and so Codentify is an insufficient system for tracking and tracing cigarettes: “No tracking, no tracing. Nothing. It doesn’t work. Codentify doesn’t store codes”.33

TobaccoTactics Resources

TCRG Research

For a comprehensive list of all TCRG publications, including research that evaluates the impact of public health policy, go to TCRG publications. 

References

  1. Philip Morris International, PMI Product Marking, accessed August 2017
  2. abcdefghijklA. Gilmore, A.W.A. Gallagher, A. Rowell, Tobacco industry’s elaborate attempts to control a global track and trace system and fundamentally undermine the Illicit Trade Protocol, Tobacco Control, Published Online First: 13 June 2018
  3. abcdefghijL. Joossens, A.B. Gilmore, The transnational tobacco companies’ strategy to promote Codentify, their inadequate tracking and tracing standard, Tobacco Control, 2014;23:e3-e6
  4. abWorld Health Organization, The Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products: Questions and Answers, accessed August 2017
  5. World Health Organization, Decision FCTC/COP 5(1) Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Fifth Session, Seoul, 12–17 November 2012, 12 November 2012, accessed August 2017
  6. abD. Hubert, Implementing Technologies to Fight the Illicit Trade, May 2013, accessed August 2017
  7. D. Hubert, LinkedIn Profile, accessed August 2017
  8. abEuropean Patent Register, EP1719070 – Methods and Systems for Marking, Tracking and Authentication of Products, 9 December 2016, accessed December 2016
  9. Digital Coding & Tracking Association, Association launched to fight illicit trade in excisable goods, Cision Newswire, 22 May 2013, accessed August 2017
  10. Digital Coding & Tracking Association, About us, accessed August 2017
  11. All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health, Inquiry into the illicit trade in tobacco products, March 2013, accessed August 2017
  12. BBC, The Secret Bribes of Big Tobacco, 30 November 2015, accessed June 2018
  13. Moneyhouse, Inexto SA, 2016, accessed December 2016
  14. Digital Coding & Tracking Association, DCTA technology ownership transferred to Inexto, an affiliate of Impala Group, 1 June 2016, accessed August 2017
  15. abP. Teffer, Big Tobacco suspected of dodging EU anti-smuggling rules, EUobserver, 21 June 2016, accessed August 2017
  16. M. Day, House of Commons Hansard: Christmas Adjournment, 20 December 2016, Volume 618, 20 December 2016, accessed September 2016
  17. Impala, Arjo Systems, Arjo Solutions, Inexto, 2013, accessed December 2016
  18. O. Larsson, Sale of Codentify to Inexto Means Business as Usual for Big Tobacco, 21 June 2016, accessed December 2016
  19. LinkedIn, Erwan Fradet, accessed December 2016
  20. LinkedIn, Patrick Chanez, accessed August 2017
  21. ITreseller, Inexto SA., 2016, accessed December 2016
  22. Espacenet, Philip Morris and Patrick Chanzel search, accessed December 2016
  23. Intellectual Property Office, Case details for trade mark WE00000917422, accessed December 2016
  24. European Union Patent Office, Search on Codentify, accessed December 2016
  25. TMview, search on Codentify, accessed December 2016
  26. P. Teffer, Cigarette tracking rules risk being derailed by lobbyists, EUobserver, 7 June 2017, accessed September 2017
  27. H. Ross, M. Eads, M. Yates, Why governments cannot afford Codentify to support their track and trace solutions, Tobacco Control, Published Online First: 24 January 2018
  28. abM. Geller, INSIGHT- Big Tobacco squares up as EU rules aim to track every cigarette, 18 June 2014, accessed August 2017
  29. V.L. da Costa e Silva, Putting fox in charge of hen-house: EU asks tobacco firms to track sale of cigarettes, 23 February 2016, accessed August 2017
  30. A.B. Gilmore, G. Fooks, S.A. Bialous, et al, Exposing and addressing tobacco industry conduct in low-income and middle-income countries., The Lancet, 2015; 385:1029-43
  31. World Health Organization, Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, head of the Convention Secretariat, sends her remarks to the High Level Conference: Combating tobacco industry tactics: state of play and a way forward, 2 March 2016, accessed August 2017
  32. Action on Smoking and Health, Framework Convention Alliance, South East-Asian Tobacco Control Alliance, et al, Does the tobacco industry have a tracking and tracing system that governments can use?, May 2015, accessed August 2017, available from FCA website , also in French and Spanish
  33. abWhy It is Bad – Tobacco Track and Trace, Codentify – Interview with a Tobacco Industry Insider, YouTube, published on 28 May 2015, accessed June 2018
  34. Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Fifth Session, Seoul, 12-17 November 2012, Decision FCTC/COP5(1), Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, 12 November 2012, accessed August 2017
  35. WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Analysis of the available technology for unique markings in view of the global track-and-trace regime proposed in the negotiation text for a protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products, 22 February 2010, accessed August 2017
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