Wednesday 3 May 2017

The curse of plain packaging

One of the indisputable facts about plain packaging that should be universally known but is barely acknowledged, is that cigarettes sales rose every quarter after it was introduced in Australia until large tax rises started nudging them down again.

Image from City AM

This is quite remarkable. It should go without saying that cigarette sales have been falling in most developed countries for a very long time. Between 2012 and 2015, they fell by 14 per cent in Britain.

Because this unusual rise has never really been acknowledged, it has never been fully explained. The most plausible explanation is something that I hinted at way back in 2012 before the policy had been introduced.

Should we care if cigarette companies becomes less profitable and are only able to compete on price? If smokers buy cheaper cigarettes from the licit and illicit market, perhaps we should.

If smokers downgrade to cheaper cigarettes, it is quite possible that they will smoke more of them. If that is not the reason then perhaps it has something to do with the 'forbidden fruit' aspect, or maybe smokers are flicking up two fingers at authority. Who knows?

Of course, it could just have been a bizarre coincidence that cigarette sales happened to rise when a silly anti-smoking policy was introduced. And yet, it seems to be happening again...

It's perhaps a cliché that the French love their cigarettes, but as they say, there's no smoke without fire.

In fact new figures reveal that even despite the French government's controversial efforts to turn the population off cigarettes, the number of people smoking has gone up.

Since France introduced a ban on branded cigarettes in January 2017, more packets of cigarettes have been sold compared to last year when branding was allowed, according to the country's Customs Office (L'administration des Douanes).

In March alone the French bought four million packets of cigarettes, over four percent more than during the same period last year.

Throughout the first four months of 2017, the French shipped over 1 percent more tobacco products into the country than they did in the same period of 2016, officials say.

Contrary to what the news report says, this is not necessarily evidence that the number of smokers has gone up, but it is certainly evidence that the number of cigarettes sold has gone up. A case of déjà-vu?

This is starting to look like a habit.

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