Wednesday, 27 November 2013

No fall in smoking since plain packaging

Tucked away at the bottom of this Daily Mail article (which is mainly about some pointless CRUK research into e-cigs) is this little nugget of information:

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.


Andrew Webster said...

Good to hear you sticking up for liberty on the radio this morning.

Bucko The Moose said...

The problem with this study is that it was funded by the tobacco industry so it will be ignored by the powers that be.

It doesn't matter if the data was supplied from the hand of God himself, if it was brought down the mountain by Philip Morris it will be completely ignored.

It will only be a matter of months (if that) before a study comes from the tobacco control industry, with a sample size of seven, that gets published in every journal and newspaper telling us that plain packs have been a resounding success in Australia.

harleyrider1978 said...

That's if there is any Tobacco Control left by then in Australia!

Peter2715626 said...

I just saw you on Sky. Good job. Rare example of common sense and fight for freedom. Thanks.

Dick Puddlecote said...

You'll love Cancer Vic's 'analysis' of this. Apparently, the study mistreats the data!

"While statistics can be misused for political purposes, the laws of mathematics can be changed for no man!"

You gotta admire their chutzpah. ;)

Oliver Kershaw said...

Well, they're bang on as far as I can tell. The study does not have the statistical power to pick up on a small decline in smoking prevalence. It will come out later on what the real effect has been.