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Thursday
Apr272017

No evidence that plain packaging affects the number of young people smoking

A report published today suggests that 300,000 smokers in Britain may quit by May 2018 as a result of plain packaging.

According to the BBC:

The Cochrane Review team ... estimated that the number of people who smoked in the UK could go down by 0.5% by May 2018, although they said the current evidence was limited [my emphasis].

The findings were backed up by a report from the Australian government, which showed a similar drop in smoking prevalence - 0.55% - following the introduction of plain packaging there in 2012.

Naturally this has been seized upon by anti-smoking campaigners. Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH, told the Sun:

"Standard packs are a landmark public health policy the tobacco industry fought tooth and nail to prevent. As evidence grows it is easy to see why.

"Smokers already saying they feel differently about their pack of cigarettes and in years to come we expect to see fewer young people smoking as they are no longer seduced by glitzy, brightly coloured packs."

I don't know if Deborah bothered to read the report but on this point co-author Jamie Hartmann-Boyce is absolutely clear. There was no evidence, she said, that changing packaging affected the number of young people taking up smoking.

Think about that for a minute. How many times were we told that the raison d'etre for introducing plain packaging was to reduce youth smoking rates by deterring young people from smoking?

And yet, four years after the introduction of plain packaging in Australia, there was no evidence that changing packaging affected the number of young people taking up smoking.

Judged on that issue alone plain packaging has been a monumental failure.

Giles Roca, director general of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, summed it up nicely when he told the BBC:

"This report destroys the rationale for the introduction of plain packaging by finding no evidence that it actually acts a deterrent to young people in taking up smoking - this was at the core of the government's and health campaigners' argument for its introduction."

Instead there are desperate references to a "six per cent increase in people trying to give up smoking" and an "increase in calls to quit smoking helplines".

Talk about grasping at straws.

Forest, btw, is quoted in both the BBC and Guardian reports.

Update: The BBC appears to have made a subtle change to its report, presumably at the request of Deborah Arnott or the authors of the review.

Whether it was prompted by the headline of this post, who knows, but I'm happy to clear things up.

If I remember the BBC report originally read:

There was no evidence that changing packaging affected the number of young people taking up smoking, she [Jamie Hartmann-Boyce] said.

Now it reads:

However, there were no studies showing whether changing the packaging affected the number of young people taking up smoking.

A subtle difference.

Hartman-Boyce's name has also disappeared from the amended version. I'm pretty sure the original report quoted her because I noted that she was referred to as the 'co-author'.

Rather than a direct quote the BBC report paraphrased what she said and I suspect that's where the 'error' crept in.

My headline remains accurate however because, whichever way you spin it, studies or no studies, there is no evidence that plain packaging affects the number of young people smoking.

Like it or not, Deborah, that is an undisputed fact.

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Reader Comments (7)

I suppose that the 0.55% drop in smoking prevalence in Australia wouldn't have had anything to do with the massive tax hikes that happened concurrently, then? Just the introduction of PP, was it?

And I don't suppose that the mooted drop of 0.5% in the UK would have anything to do with the rising popularity of e-cigs, either, would it? Just the introduction of PP, then. Nothing to do with anything else.

Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 9:25 | Unregistered Commenternisakiman

Public health is one of the only professions where up is down and left is right. Also none of the mainstream media question their lies, it's an insane situation. They can get away with saying pretty much anything they like.

Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 15:31 | Unregistered CommenterTony

Children and young people are exploited by ASH to fool the gullible. After all, who would support a policy aimed at stigmatising and humiliating legitimate adult consumers? That was the real reason for plain packs but as usual, ASH lied to get what it wanted and the ignorant are happy to believe stupid things if they can be made scared enough.

The real experts on smokers, smoking and the reasons for buying tobacco are smokers and we know that on the face of it, things look good but when you look behind the propaganda and downright dishonesty, nothing has changed except smokers have been forced to criminal markets which is where ASH wanted them to go to make it easier to criminalise them after first promoting them as criminals to the general public.

ASH is a hate group and has no place in a decent and tolerant society.

Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 15:55 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Probably not a good idea either, if we are about to set off to trade with the World, that companies who might have wanted to trade with us, now know that we can take away their intellectual property on the whim of Public Health.

After all, who knows what products will fall from favour next?

Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 17:50 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

It seems the tobacco control 'spin doctors' are at work again.
First they promote 'alternate facts' (that is lies and trickery about the success of plain packaging) and then when their misrepresentations are challenged they change the tone of their message to sustain their propaganda campaign through 'sleight of hand'. The only answer is the keep exposing their lies. Sooner or later their fraud will become known and they will be widely discredited.

Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 18:22 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Plain packaging isn't working. Not here and certainly not down under as anyone likes us to believe. Its higher taxes and the banning of packs of 10 that will 'persuade' people, notably the poor into quitting or most likely, opting for a cheap E-Cig kit from Poundworld or wherever.

The WTO decision is due anytime now and I can't, for the life of me hope that they will rule against it. Its took too long and even the antis will be somewhere on the WTO board and will make up some cocka-hooey reason and excuse to support it. I fear plain packaging is here to stay.

Plain packaging is spreading like a cancer.

Our only hope is in France. Le Pen (love her or hate her) is a vocal smoker and if she wins it'lll be bye bye to plain packs.

Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 18:43 | Unregistered CommenterBulliedsmoker

"Standard packs are a landmark public health policy the tobacco industry fought tooth and nail to prevent. As evidence grows it is easy to see why.

"Smokers already saying they feel differently about their pack of cigarettes and in years to come we expect to see fewer young people smoking as they are no longer seduced by glitzy, brightly coloured packs."

Even though it's coming from a prominent tobacco control lunatic, it is nonetheless difficult to believe an actual human being said this in public with a straight face.

Friday, April 28, 2017 at 1:30 | Unregistered CommenterNate

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