The report comes as a separate study from London Economics found no change in the prevalence of cigarette smoking in Australia since the introduction of plain packaging in December 2012.
Dr Gavan Conlon, lead researcher and London Economics partner, said: 'Over the timeframe of the analysis, the data does not demonstrate that there has been a change in smoking prevalence following the introduction of plain packaging despite an increase in the noticeability of the new health warnings.'
Is it cynical to suggest that this would be front page news if there had been a drop in the smoking rate? The study, which was commissioned by PMI, is here and it does indeed show no decline in smoking prevalence. The sample size of around 5,000 people means that smoking prevalence cannot be confidently estimated to the nearest decimal point (although this is always the case with prevalence surveys), but the smoking rate was essentially 20 per cent throughout the period. The mid-point estimates for daily smoking were 20.4 per cent before the introduction of plain packaging, 19.5 per cent three months later and 20.0 per cent eight months later. As the authors note, "from a statistical perspective, none of these changes were different from zero". Weekly smoking rates were 2.1, 2.0 and 2.1 per cent respectively.
In line with a previous study, the authors find that people noticed the warnings more once plain packaging came in. This happens every time the government changes the warnings on cigarettes, but it never seems to lead to more people quitting. So far, the only evidence the neo-prohibitionists have come up with to show that plain packaging 'works' is a telephone survey which found that smokers noticed the warnings more. Some of these smokers reported thinking about giving up, but they didn't. When I wrote about this survey, I suggested there were three things the UK government would want to see before they were sold on plain packs...
(1) a sharp decline in smoking prevalence, particularly underage smoking prevalence;
(2) no increase in illicit cigarette sale and production;
(3) a successful and inexpensive settlement of the various intellectual property disputes/lawsuits.
The legal issues remain unresolved, but there is certainly evidence that the illicit trade has been given a boost by plain packaging, and the London Economics report strongly suggests that there has been no sharp decline in smoking prevalence. Indeed, it suggests—albeit tentatively due to the sample size—that there has been no decline at all (even though we would expect some downward movement based on the long-term trend). As Angela Harbutt says...
In combination, the KPMG LLP and London Economics reports highlight the real facts about the Australian ‘plain’ packs experiment. Smoking rates have not fallen but the trade in the black market (especially fakes) has risen astronomically – damaging legitimate business, reducing government revenues and ultimately contributing to more public health harm. Exactly as predicted.
Meanwhile, on a somewhat related note, a study published this week found that the Scottish brainwave of banning multi-packs of alcohol didn't reduce alcohol consumption. As I've said many times before, if 'public health' was a results-driven business, they'd all be on the dole.