Despite our econometric efforts, the data refused to yield any indication this policy has been successful; there is no empirical evidence to support the notion that the plain packaging policy has resulted in lower household expenditure on tobacco than there otherwise would have been. There is some faint evidence to suggest, ceteris paribus, household expenditure on tobacco increased.
This will come as no surprise to readers who have seen the Australian Bureau of Statistics' data laid out on a graph. It is as clear as a bell that the secular decline in tobacco sales came to a virtual halt in the first year of plain packaging. No amount of sophistry and statistical jiggery-pokery can alter that (although there will no doubt be plenty of both in Simple Simon's new book).
The study - by Davidson and de Silva - tests the data from every angle and discusses plausible mechanisms whereby sales could rise or fall as a result of plain packaging. Ultimately, however, they come out empty handed:
Ronald Coase famously argued that if you tortured the data long enough they would confess. In this paper we have tortured the data, but there has been no confession. At best, we can determine the plain packaging policy introduced in December 2012 has not reduced household expenditure of tobacco once we control for price effects, or the long-term decline of tobacco expenditure, or even the latent attributes of the data.
To the contrary, we are able to find a suggestion that household expenditure of tobacco has, ceteris paribus, increased. In our forecasting exercise the actual data come close to breaking through the 80 per cent confidence interval. While we do not want to over-emphasise these results, we do conclude that any evidence to suggest that the plain packaging policy has reduced household expenditure on tobacco is simply lacking.
Can we say 'we told you so' now?
As the truth begins to sink in that plain packaging has been a flop, the tobacco control industry is looking for new ways to justify their existence. Nearly two years ago, I asked the question:
What fresh lunacy will follow? Warnings on individual cigarettes? Smoking licences? All out prohibition?
Smoking licences and all out prohibition have already been mooted and this shamelessly partisan puff piece from the BBC's superfluous 'magazine' section gives an indication of which part of the barrel is going to be scraped next:
Moodie is the last person to underestimate the tobacco companies. Their flair for innovation, and the sheer size of their budgets makes it "very hard for public health to compete," he says.
He adds: "While tobacco companies exploit the entire cigarette pack, including the cigarette, as a sophisticated communications tool, policy makers are less creative [cigarette design hasn't changed one iota since filters were invented in the 1930s - CJS]."
The same techniques the tobacco companies use to attract consumers should be used by governments to dissuade them from smoking, he argues. Since the companies stamp their brand name on each cigarette, he asks, why not put a health warning there too?
He has even mocked up an example of a cigarette carrying the words "Smoking kills".
Watch this space.
Watch this space indeed. That should keep the grants rolling in for another couple of years.