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