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Tax Stamp Standard Editorial Group Reaches Two Key Conclusions

09 December 2016

The editorial group working on writing the new International Standards Organisation (ISO) standard for tax stamps held its fourth meeting in Edinburgh, UK, in early September, as part of the plenary meeting of ISO Technical Committee (TC) 292, which covers security and resilience. ISO’s pattern is for standards to be developed by specialist groups which are sub-groups of a TC, although in this case the tax stamp standard is being written by a group within TC 292 Working Group 4, which covers Authenticity, integrity and trust for products and documents.

The proposed tax stamp standard is ISO 19998, titled Requirements for the content, security, issuance and examination of excise tax stamps. 

The editorial group was joined by two new members for the Edinburgh meeting: Kyle Parker of Traceability Solutions (as an expert nominated by the South African Bureau of Standards), and Michael Thorne-Begland of Altria Client Services (an expert from the USA). 

This brings the group to 24 members, largely drawn from component suppliers, printers, serialisation providers and standards bodies.

The Edinburgh meeting, in the august surroundings of the City Chambers, addressed one of the issues that the group has grappled with for the year or so of its existence: what does the standard cover? A seemingly simple question where – as so often – the devil is in the detail. Of course, the standard will cover tax stamps, but what kind of tax stamps? 

The discussion has focused on the place of digital stamps in the standard, and even whether there are such things as ‘digital tax stamps’. The conclusion reached is that the standard applies to ‘tax stamps that are physical in nature, having an appearance which is obvious to the human senses of sight or touch, which are applied to a consumer good and which allow material authentication’. (Note that all quotes from the draft are subject to final approval of the standard by ISO.)

Another element of the draft standard that was aired at the meeting was the function of tax stamps in regard to product authentication. This concluded that the two requirements are different and should not be confused. 

The section on the function of tax stamps therefore now includes a clear statement that ‘the fundamental purpose of tax stamps is to facilitate and confirm the payment of the appropriate taxes’ while ‘product rights’ holders alone bear responsibility to protect their rights, the products they apply to and consumers who purchase those products’. In other words, as proposed in the draft standard, tax stamps should not be taken as fulfilling a product authentication role.

The task facing the group now is to get the draft to the stage where it can be considered, in ISO’s terminology, a committee draft (ie. the first draft of the full standard), which requires some new material, editing and consolidation of sections already drafted. This work is to be completed by the end of October so that the next full draft can be circulated to the editorial group before year-end, for consideration at the next meeting. This will be in Berlin, Germany, on 2-3 February 2017 (immediately after the Tax Stamp Forum™ in the same city).

Ian Lancaster is project leader for ISO 19998, so any questions or comments should be sent to him at 

More information on TC 292 and WG 4 can be viewed at:


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