Sunday 25 January 2015

The scream test revisited

I wrote an article for The Telegraph last week about the public health lobby's 'scream test' and the real motives behind plain packaging.

So much for evidence. With every indicator showing that plain packaging in Australia has been, at best, a damp squib, the campaign for this risible policy was won with the one oft-repeated question: "Why would the tobacco industry spend so much time and money lobbying against plain packaging if it didn’t work?"

Do read the rest.


Christopher Snowdon said...

Interesting. Expecially fascinating how fast the commentators are in pointing out that you are an evil tobacco-industry-funded right-wing overly bad person.

I am wondering - I live near Nuremberg, Germany and usually do not buy my cigarettes in Germany as it's far cheaper to spend a nice weekend in the Czech Republic and bring a few cartons - it's financially solid:

In Germany a pack is 5,40€ for 19, i.e. 28,42ct/cigarette

In CZ a pack is 82 CZK (Marlboro Gold softpacks for my wife) and 74 CZK for my Philip Morris, containing 20, thus averaging 3,90 CZK per cigarette or 14,18ct/cigarette. Bringing 4 cartons each, that makes savings of 1.600 cigarettes x 14,24ct each = 256.32€. That's gas plus 2 nights in a nice 5* Hotel in Prague plus two nice dinners and a visit to the opera if you like (dinner & opera is dirt cheap in CZ).

Now, what I am wondering as Britons are obviously living on an island and may not have heard about Ryanair, but let's do the calculation for the UK.

Marlboros are £9,00 at Sainsbury's, thats 45p/cigarette.

The Czech Marlboros are 11.3p (let's make that 12 for flating exchange rate.

Bringing 4 cartons will save you £264,00.

Ryanair will get you to Prague for about £40 from London and around £100 from Dublin, Easyjet will take about the same from Manchester, Bristol or Edinburgh, leaving you with at least £164,00. If you are a smoking couple, that means you have £320 to spend in a weekend in Prague, which is close to impossible except if you literally burn the money (you'll probably want a smoking room in the hotel which cancels out the most expensive hotels, so you'll be around £60/night for the hotel, and you'll probably want a smoking table in the restaurant, which cancels out the only really expensive restaurant, so you would have to get really drunk to get a bill of more than £30 for dinner - for two).

So, my question is: Is cigarette tourism a really big thing over there?

Christopher Snowdon said...

It certainly is. If you're a smoker, a holiday to Greece, for example, pays for itself if you bring back a suitcase of cigarettes. And because it's for personal use, it doesn't count as part of the illicit trade. A heavy smoking friend of mine has only bought one packet of cigarettes in the UK in the last two years.

Christopher Snowdon said...

Tobacco control zealots are the only ones taking plain packaging seriously, for smokers in my country, where we have had plain packaging for a while now, it is a standing joke. You can't further stigmatise smokers, as it had already reached saturation point. I have personally seen people having a great laugh when they buy their smokes, " can I have the pack with the manky foot please, I've already got the eyeball and the dead guy" . Pinch mouthed puritans don't live in the real world, they inhabit some space where their poo brown packs and gruesome pictures are taken seriously and they really think that they are going to stop kids taking up smoking, in the real world the opposite is happening.

Christopher Snowdon said...

It does make a nonsense of UK cigarette prices. £9.00 a pack? Ye Gods, it's no wonder people don't buy many cigarettes in UK. Have the Exchequer not heard of the Laffer Curve?

On the subject of Greece, I know a chap who holidays in Greece regularly (2 or 3 times a year) and always goes back with a suitcase full of ciggies. (He actually sells half and keeps half, I believe.) He reckons he hasn't paid for a holiday in years.

And on the subject of price, a couple of weeks ago I was in Hanoi, Vietnam, and I found a local cigarette I rather liked, called 'Thang Long'. Much like the American Marboros used to be. Decent quality and a nice smoke. So I bought a carton (10 packs of 20 = 200 ciggies) from one of the local wholesalers (tax paid) and the carton cost me 71,000 Vietnamese Dong, which is about €2.80 - £2.10(?), or 21 pence a pack or thereabouts. If a kosher company in Vietnam can produce a decent ciggy, tax paid and covering all the distribution costs for that price, it gives some indication of the sort of money that can be made from counterfeiting cigarettes and shipping them to UK. Even selling them at half UK price makes for a massive profit.

Maybe I should consider a career change...

Christopher Snowdon said...

Q. "Why would the tobacco industry spend so much time and money lobbying against plain packaging if it didn’t work?"
A. "Because their property is being stolen"

Christopher Snowdon said...

I think this business is controlled by EE mafia ;)

I love thinking back to my time in China where the very-similar-to-Marlboro brand "Zhongnanhai" was around 5€/carton (with tax stickers).

But thinking more about it: Did anyone ever check if smoking prevalence and rates (of cigarettes smoked) going down may be flawed due to both cigarette tourism and illegal imports?

There are the trashcan-studies, I know, but is it reasonable to assume that foreign (maybe yes) and illegal (maybe not) packs go to the same public trashcans as local packs?

Christopher Snowdon said...


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