Big tobacco, Interpol & Codentify: potential problems with industry product tracking systems

In 2013, Tobacco Control published an article which examined Codentify, an industry tracking and tracing standard (click here for open access full text). It traces events from 2011, when Interpol accepted a substantial donation from Philip Morris International. Shortly afterwards, in 2012, Interpol announced the creation of the Interpol Global Register (IGR) to help ensure authenticity of products threatened by illicit trade. At the same time, Interpol announced it would work the four major transnational tobacco companies (British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Group, Japan Tobacco International,  and Philip Morris International) to make the industry’s supply chain control system, Codentify accessible via the IGR.

This collaboration took place in the lead up to the adoption of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Illicit Trade Protocol in November 2012, which is focused on technological solutions to global illicit trade. The article examines how the tobacco industry promoted Codentify, portrayed itself as part of the solution to illicit trade and integrated itself into FCTC processes. It notes that while limited information was available, the pan-industry deal to develop and promote the PMI tracing and tracking standard is potentially problematic, given the standard has significant limitations, and particularly in light of the fact that the industry has been accused of involvement in tobacco smuggling.

Recently, a new independent blog has appeared, called Why It’s Bad, which aims to explain and further investigate Codentify. The author is a student at the Open University of London, who states: “This blog will be primarily dedicated to explaining the scam that is Codentify. I will try my best to use my background as an information systems student to explain these technical issues in simple terms.” Given the lack of research about this issue and the potential danger of regulatory capture by the tobacco industry in the area of illicit tobacco, the blog has the potential to provide interesting insights about Codentify. (Note: Why It’s Bad is external content. BMJ has not verified, and takes no responsibility for, the content in this external link).