Plain Packaging & the TPD


I almost missed this but, recently the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the latest dataset for the Adult Smoking Habits in the UK which showed some interesting points. Naturally, those points are being spun to show how “successful” measures have been.

Duncan Selbie, Public Health England has proclaimed that “Britain is winning the war on tobacco”, which for many in ‘public health’ is what it is all about. Sod the Proles and their little enjoyable vices. ‘Public health’ have set targets and by Jove, they’ll be met!

“Smoking rates have dropped by almost a quarter in five years, a triumphant step in eliminating the nation’s biggest killer,” added Duncan Selbie, the chief executive of Public Health England (PHE).

Interesting that Selbie chose a five year period to make his point. Yes, the rate has declined, again. But, between 2016/17 it declined a massive… 0.7 per cent.

To put that into context, here’s the rate (UK) since 2011:

Figure 1_ Proportion who were current smokers, all persons aged 18 years and over.png

  • 2011 – 20.2 per cent
  • 2012 – 19.6 per cent
  • 2013 – 18.8 per cent
  • 2014 – 18.1 per cent
  • 2015 – 17.2 per cent
  • 2016 – 15.8 per cent
  • 2017 – 15.1 per cent

Interestingly, this data is for 18-year-olds and above which is understandable because the powers-that-be like to ignore those under 18. When the smoking rate figures for ALL AGES is included, it paints a completely different picture:

Source: Adult smoking habits in Great Britain, 2017 dataset

The biggest single annual decline is 1.4 per cent between 2015 & 2016. Interestingly, this is before the formal introduction of plain packaging and the Tobacco & Related Products Regulations; the UK’s transposition of the EU Tobacco Products Directive.

Of course, the TRPR had a phased implementation so it is somewhat difficult to isolate exactly when aspects would begin to take effect, but May 2017 is when it truly did begin to bite as that is when both the tobacco and vaping industries had to have sold all their pre-legislation stock.

Since vaping became mainstream around 2012/13 the year-on-year decline in the smoking has been nothing short of extraordinary. Yet, of course, folks like ASH et al are convinced the policies they lobbied so hard for are to thank.

(H/T Christopher Snowdon)

As I’ve mentioned before, the introduction of plain packaging hasn’t been the rip-roaring success that ‘public health’ think it is, anywhere it has been introduced. Of course, isolating the effect of one policy when a raft of policies are introduced is next to impossible. What is clear, both from the chart above, and the recent ONS statistics, is that the age restrictions, graphic warnings and eye-watering taxation didn’t have the explosive impact that was expected.

Now, you would be forgiven for thinking that the smoking rate has gone up because folk are starting to smoke because of e-cigs. Except, no. Here’s why.

Since 2014, the Office for National Statistics have included e-cigarette use and this is what they’ve found:

Source: Office for National Statistics Opinions & Lifestyle Survey 2017

Note: “Tried” includes those who currently vape, those who previously vaped and those who tried but then decided not to vape. “Been” includes those who currently vape in addition to those who previously vaped.

The number of individuals that have tried vaping has been on the rise, whether those are smokers, ex-smokers or non-smokers isn’t clear; the Smoking Toolkit Survey suggests that most of those who try vaping are smokers. From the data, it is clear that those who currently vape are starting to move away from vaping – either because they’ve stopped altogether, or they’ve found another product (like heat-not-burn) that suits them.

There are a number of reasons why that could be the case. As pointed out by Christopher Snowdon:

The Tobacco Products Directive makes the most popular substitute for smoking less appealing. Plain packaging makes smokers more likely to buy tobacco on price rather than on brand, and if they want a branded pack they have to buy on the black market where cigarettes are cheaper. Banning packs of ten and small tobacco pouches means that smokers have to buy more tobacco than they might intend.

Quite. With heavy restrictions on the products that can incentivise smokers to make a change which, according to ASH, don’t count. With ridiculous regulation on innovation is it any wonder that one of the reasons for the decline in the UK smoking prevalence rate has started to decline too?

‘New’ legislation has seemingly caused an increase. So much for “winning the war” on smoking, eh?

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