The surprise announcement on Wednesday night was the culmination of several years of intense campaigning which swallowed up millions of pounds of taxpayers' money and yet the idea remains as futile, silly and counterproductive as it was when I first wrote about it six years ago. More so, in fact, because we have since had real world evidence from Australia proving its ineffectiveness.
The campaign has gone on so long that I suspect the public will expect to see real results this time. It won't be like graphic warnings or the ban on cigarette vending machines, when legislation was pushed through quickly and then forgotten about. The public health lobby has an aversion to assessing its policies in retrospect for obvious reasons—most of them don't work. As I have said many times before, tobacco control is not a results-driven business, but the claims about plain packaging have been so hysterically overblown that I don't think the public will forget them overnight, no matter what fresh campaign is launched to take our minds off it.
We have been told, by none other than the corpulent 'public health' luminary Martin McKee, that the best way to tell if an anti-smoking policy is effective is to watch the markets.
@alexralph @COPDdoc Big Tobacco share price by far best indicator of whether tob control policy effective. This makes case for #plainpacks
— Martin McKee (@martinmckee) November 28, 2013
We are also told that plain packaging is a bigger deal in the UK than it is in Australia. We have a larger population and we are regarded as more influential to copycat nations in the West than distant Oz. So how did the markets react to the seismic news this week?
Here's BAT's share price...
Here's Imperial Tobacco's share price...
And here's Philip Morris's share price...
ASH et al. have committed a lot of money to the idea of plain packaging in recent years, most of it belonging to taxpayers. Would they, I wonder, bet their own money on the policy working? Because the people who actually do have money in the game are calling their bluff.