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« Oh so quiet. Silence speaks volumes about plain packaging review | Main | Another smoking ban miracle »

Effects of plain packs "likely understated" (ie disappointing) says official report

The long-awaited post-implementation review (PIR) of plain packaging in Australia has finally been published.

I'm in Geneva so I haven't had a chance to read it yet but I can tell you the government is claiming that one quarter of the total decline in smoking rates in Australia was attributable to plain packaging since the legislation was introduced in December 2012.

Naturally the review is open to interpretation and spin from both sides. The Australian Journal of Pharmacy, for example, reports:

Tobacco plain packaging has been a remarkable success, and has already saved thousands of lives, according to the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) and other groups.

PHAA Tobacco spokesperson Professor Mike Daube, who chaired the Australian government’s expert committee says “it is great news for everyone except big tobacco”.

“We know that smoking in adults and children and cigarette sales are declining, but it is especially rewarding that this meticulous independent analysis attributes part of that decline to plain packaging alone, even within its first three years.”

He adds that the plain packaging legislation has resulted in a stunning outcome.

“Even leaving aside the rest of the decline, and impacts on children, plain packaging alone has been responsible for tens of thousands of adults quitting since its introduction in late 2012.”

According to British American Tobacco Australia, however, the evidence shows plain packaging has failed:

"The majority of the report focuses on the tobacco control research that examines sentiment and perception rather than hard data such as sales and incidence. When the PIR does refer to hard data it doesn't delineate between the impact of tobacco excise hikes and plain packaging.

BATA spokesman Scott McIntyre said the Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey shows that the proportion of daily smokers has been declining steadily over a long time and is almost exactly on trend despite plain packaging.

The company adds:

The latest illicit tobacco report shows that illegal tobacco now represents 14.3 per cent of all tobacco consumed in Australia. The black market has grown dramatically since plain packaging was introduced and the three 12.5 per cent excise increases have been implemented."

Take your pick.

I will say this. Reading between the lines it seems the Australian government and the tobacco control industry are putting a brave face on things.

A report released today concludes that the effects of plain packaging are “underestimated” [my emphasis] but these positive outcomes are expected [my emphasis] to grow.

Maurice Swanson, National Heart Foundation tobacco control spokesperson, and President of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health, said:

“The legislation was always designed for long-term [my emphasis] impact and if these results are merely the start of the journey, a smoke-free Australia could one day be a reality.”

In plain English, the PIR shows the impact of plain packaging has been very small (hence “underestimated”) but if the short-term results are disappointing, don't worry, this was always intended to be a "long-term" journey (sic).

See Plain packaging works: report (AJP). See also Update below.

It will be interesting to see how the UK media reacts (if at all). I'm sure ASH and co will try to make the most of it but it's fairly clear the results are inconclusive at best.

"One quarter of the total decline in smoking rates in Australia were attributable to plain packaging."

That, my friends, is speculation not fact. The jury is still out.

Full report: Post-Implementation Review: Tobacco Plain Packaging.

Update: Sinclair Davidson, professor of Institutional Economics in the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing at RMIT University, and a senior research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs in Australia, writes:

The long overdue Post-Implementation Review into Plain Packaging has been very quietly released today.

Many thanks to the Public Health Association of Australia for notifying us of the release – the Department of Health itself has no mention of this at its website.

This is interesting because it's true. I have spent the morning searching for news reports about the PIR – in the Australian media and elsewhere – and at the time of writing (13:41 GMT) the only report is the one I quoted earlier which is based on the PHAA press release that Sinclair refers to.

Why, if this report is genuinely significant in terms of the 'success' of plain packaging in Australia, is there no statement from the Department of Health in Australia and nothing on its website? (I'll check again later.)

And why was it sneaked out on a Friday?

No further questions, m'lud.

See Tobacco PIR shifts the goal posts (Catallaxy Files).

Update: I've been informed (via Twitter!) that the word "underestimated" doesn't appear in the Post-Implementation Review so the Australian Journal of Pharmacy may have misquoted the Public Health Association of Australia.

According to the PHAA press release (on which the AJP report is based) the PIR concluded that the impact of plain packaging in Australia to date was "likely understated" (not "underestimated").

The sentiment is very similar but in order to be completely accurate I have changed the title of this post.

PS. I also seem to have lost the comments that had been posted in response to this post. Not sure what happened. Apologies!

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Reader Comments (1)

The rise of organized crime and blackmarket profiteering due to plain packages is also underestimated.

Sunday, February 28, 2016 at 18:21 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

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