The Numbers are in, Plain Packaging STILL Doesn’t Work

The Numbers are in, Plain Packaging STILL Doesn’t Work

As with most debates from tobacco control, regarding plain packaging there remained one, quite crucial, point that was conspicuous by its absence. No one could categorically say that plain packaging would work. Not one person could stand up and claim that drab, olive-green packs with larger warnings would amount to much of a decrease in smoking prevalence. Well, except Debs, but then she’s always had her head in the clouds (it’ll be responsible for 300,000 smokers giving up the ‘deadly weed’ of course. Bravo Bollocks).

Of course, our friends down under were always going to be the test case for such a ridiculous theory. The trouble with Australia, unlike the US or UK, their data is only collected once every three years, so giving any weight to one implemented policy is always going to be a complete waste of time. Y’see, in 2001, the smoking prevalence (according to figures from AIHW) was 19.4% (and in 1991 it was around %25).

Image courtesy of Sinclair Davidson, RMIT University

Image courtesy of Sinclair Davidson, RMIT University

Australia are known for their moralistic crusade on smokers, so after going through all the usual rigmarole of advertising bans, applying a customised taxation rate, health warnings, national tobacco campaigns, indoor bans, graphic health warnings (gore porn), yet more tax (an eye watering 25% excise), point of sale display bans (so the Children™ can’t see the packs, natch), in comes plain packaging (with even bigger gory health porn), right before some more eye watering excise increases.

Remember, Aussies can pay almost $40 per pack of smokes. Who says tobacco control doesn’t pay?!

So now we have the first full dataset on how plain packaging down under has performed and, well, it hasn’t. Of course, if your name happens to be Simon Chapman, it has indeed worked:

While it was always going to be hard to show even further decline in teenage smoking from what was an already very low-level, it’s happened again.

Except, it hasn’t. Not really. The 2013 data shows that the average age at which 14-24 year olds had their first smoke increased from 14.2 in 1995, to 16.3 in 2016. It was at 15.9 in 2013. Furthermore, the average number of cigarettes smoked in 2013 was 96. In 2016 it’s dropped a whopping …er… two. To 94. While yes, that is a decline, it isn’t a significant decline rather it is merely following the same trend of depression from the previous intervals. Also, this snippet from AIHW is worth mentioning (emphasis mine):

for the first time in over two decades, the daily smoking rate did not significantly decline over the most recent 3 year period (2013 to 2016)

Plain packaging hasn’t worked. Despite what “leading health campaigners” down under would like you to believe.

Y’see, as Chappers kindly points out in his article on his pet website, the plain packaging legislation was aimed at reducing teenage Australians taking up smoking. He even quotes the health minister (emphasis mine):

We’re targeting people who have not yet started, and that’s the key to this plain packaging announcement – to make sure we make it less attractive for people to experiment with tobacco in the first place.

That’s what this crusade is all about. Making smoking and, by extension, smokers, unattractive. While their policies have had an impact overall since 1991, consumption actually rose immediately after the introduction of plain packs. Naturally, Simon dismisses this fact by claiming that the tobacco industry deliberately cut prices (which they did in fact do, but not for the reasons Simon believes). Y’see, when legislation of any kind affects an industry it takes steps to a) keep its consumer base & b) remain profitable. After all, that’s what any legitimate business would actually do. Therefore, when the tobacco companies had to produce the drab olive-green packs for the Australian market, the cost of manufacturing decreased giving these companies some room to lower pricing. This kind of activity isn’t unusual in any manufacturing industry, if a process is made cost-effective the business has one of two options:

  1. Keep the sale price as is and reap more profit
  2. Lower the sale price, take a small hit to profit yet keep the consumer happy

Now what business, that depends on repeat custom, would not lower the sale price; even by the smallest of margins, if it meant that they’d be able to keep their consumer base?

Yet, you’ll still hear the antipodean crackpots clucking away that plain packs are a runaway success, despite the increasing evidence to the contrary.

We saw in France, just after the implementation of plain packs, the smoking rates rose. The UK has implemented this ridiculous legislation now, is history set to repeat itself?

Will these knuckle dragging dimwits ever realise they’ve birthed a damp squib? I doubt it. They’ll continue playing soggy biscuit until someone realises they’ve royally fucked up.

(Image credit Catmando/