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Friday
Dec012017

Plain packaging: five years of failure

Today is the fifth anniversary of the introduction of plain packaging in Australia.

On December 3, 2012, I wrote:

Plain packs came into force in Australia on Saturday ... Seen for the first time, or in a gantry with lots of very similar packs, the effect is, I admit, quite gruesome.

That said, people reacted in a very similar way the first time they saw the graphic warnings that currently adorn branded packs. Very quickly people got used to them and the impact has been marginal at best.

Another reason graphic warnings don't work is this: most of the pictures portray something that, in reality, few of us witness first hand so why should we take them seriously.

When was the last time you saw someone with severely rotten teeth? Or oral cancer? I'm not saying that smoking isn't responsible for these things but putting such images on the packet is disproportionate to the risk so consumers tend to ignore them.

Anyway, the public health industry has been forced to develop a new shock tactic – even more grotesque packaging. Tobacco control calls it plain or standardised packaging but they can call it what they like. It will make no difference.

Standardised packaging is all the evidence you need that graphic health warnings have failed and there is no reason to think that plain packaging will be any different.

Five years on that comment seems rather prescient.

Plain packaging has had a negligible impact on smoking rates in Australia. In fact, since 2013 smoking prevalence has barely changed and with an increasing population it's said there are more smokers in Australia than before the policy was introduced.

Despite the evidence that plain packaging hasn't worked (or the lack of evidence that it has worked), the UK, France and Ireland have all chosen to adopt the policy.

Hungary is also introducing the measure and other countries that are considering it include Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Uruguay, Thailand, Singapore, Belgium, Romania, Turkey, Finland, Chile and South Africa.

Anyway, today's milestone reminds me of an event Forest organised at the Institute of Directors in London in February 2015 shortly before MPs voted in favour of introducing plain packs in the UK.

Nine speakers representing a variety of think tanks and organisations including the Adam Smith Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Institute of Ideas lined up to condemn the policy.

One of the speakers was Angela Harbutt, my colleague on the Hands Off Our Packs campaign, who had this to say about plain packaging in Australia:

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Reader Comments (5)

It was designed to punish smokers and remove their consumer rights. Children were used as an excuse to do this. The antismoker industry also wants to push smokers towards a criminal market to make criminalisation of them easier.

Friday, December 1, 2017 at 9:58 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Plain packaging has been a fraud from the outset. Smoking rates haven't declined (they may even have actually increased), they stimulate mafia activity, and they debase sound evidence-based decision making since its proponents lie and manipulate data to justify their policy failure. If the goal is indeed to stimulate criminalization of smokers by straitening the links between gangsters and smokers in public perception the proponents severely underestimate the corrosive impact of organized crime. By furthering their goal of creating stigma for smokers they have weakened society at large by introducing mass corruption and eroding public trust.

Friday, December 1, 2017 at 18:21 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Making it illegal for companies to display their brands on their products in a free market society should never be allowed. It is a disgrace !

Saturday, December 2, 2017 at 16:45 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy Goodacre

Plain packaging will make life very easy for black marketeers, they will be able to counterfeit cigarette packages (no need to do a nice logo, just plain green cardboard paper with some photoshopped medical porn). You mention it may be implemented in Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Uruguay, Thailand, Singapore, Belgium, Romania, Turkey, Finland, Chile and South Africa. Of these countries at least Thailand, Romania, Turkey and South Africa have robust black markets and lax enforcement of the law. Cigarette black markets are already booming in many countries without plain packaging.

Friday, December 8, 2017 at 5:54 | Unregistered CommenterRoberto

Looked at from another point of view, Roberto, the Government in partnership with TC now has it's own brand of tobacco.

Victory cigarettes have finally arrived (1984)

Saturday, December 9, 2017 at 11:59 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

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