Chantler had every reason to be interested in this research. It is the only study to date that addresses the question upon which all else hinges - does plain packaging help reduce the smoking rate amongst minors?
Kaul and Wolf had access to monthly smoking figures amongst 14-17 year olds that went all the way from 2001 to the end of December 2013, thirteen months after plain packaging was introduced in Australia. The data come from a large survey that has been used by anti-smoking researchers in the past and both authors are experienced professional statisticians. They concluded that there is no evidence from the data that plain packaging had any effect on smoking prevalence amongst this crucial age group. There was no increase in the gradual long term decline of smoking in this age group...
And when the long term decline was accounted for, plain packaging was shown to have had no discernible impact whatsoever...
This is very significant information, so why was it ignored by Chantler? It cannot be because it hasn't yet been peer-reviewed because Chantler looked at plenty of evidence that hasn't been peer-reviewed. It cannot be because it was commissioned by Philip Morris because Chantler looked at plenty of industry-funded research. In any case, if Chantler had any doubts about the research he could have looked at the raw data himself.
And we know that Chantler was aware of the research. We know this because Kaul and Wolf have now put online a 27 page transcription of the meeting he had with Chantler's team (the man himself didn't attend). It leaves no doubt that the study was carefully and patiently explained to Department of Health officials when they met the authors in London on 20 March.
At this meeting, Dr Kaul described that the methodology they used allowed maximum leeway for finding some effect from plain packaging. Alas, there was none...
"Even if you are not talking about statistical significance, I mean, sort of hoping for an effect, even a small one, you would at least expect something, a little, tiny effect, 12 months after in comparison to 12 months before but we don't find that, we find the contrary."
At the end of an extensive conversation, DoH official Christoper Cox thanked the pair for travelling to London and said of the presentation: "that is incredibly helpful and thoroughly interesting". So why was there not a trace of it in the final report? Why was the only empirical, real world evidence about underage smoking rates after plain packaging excluded?
Readers can draw their own conclusion.
(You can read the transcript here (PDF))