Monday 14 May 2018

Plain packaging failing in the UK

It's time for the 'public health' lobby to wheel out the 'no silver bullet' excuses and hope that everybody's forgotten what a game changer plain packaging was supposed to be...

The Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (TMA) today reveals data and exclusive new polling which shows how plain packaging is failing in the UK on the first anniversary after its controversial introduction.

The Smoking Toolkit Study has found that on a three month rolling average, from December 2017 to March 2018, smoking rates in England were higher than for the same time last year before plain packaging was fully introduced.

In case you are disinclined to believe the tobacco industry's trade association, you can see the source data here. It does indeed show smoking rates falling steadily until early 2017. Thereafter they stop falling and start rising.

This is not quite what we were led to expect, is it? By the end of the first quarter of 2017, plain packaging was ubiquitous if not quite universal. By May 20th, every pack sold had to be 'plain' by law. Moreover, May 20th 2017 was also the date that the EU Tobacco Products Directive came into full force.

We have therefore spent the last year with two supposedly crucial, evidence-based anti-smoking laws in place. The result? Higher smoking rates. Trebles all round!

It's still early days. We have yet to see what impact plain packaging has had on the illicit trade but, as the TMA note, counterfeit plain packs have been seized all over the country. The official figures on legal tobacco sales will be published before the end of the month, but provisional figures suggest that they have been pretty flat, with a rise in roll-you-own tobacco.

Given the rise in tobacco sales when plain packaging was first introduced in Australia, politicians need to start asking what is going on. Do smokers actually like the new packs or is it - as I warned several years ago - that the elimination of branding leads to consumers switching to cheaper cigarettes?

Whatever the reason, it's high time for 'public health' policies to be audited. The problem with plain packaging is not just that it doesn't work, nor that it has negative side effects. The problem is that it does the opposite of what anti-smoking campaigners claim to want. They spent years campaigning for this policy. They spent large amounts of taxpayers' money in the process. They cannot be allowed to move onto their next set of demands as if nothing has happened.

As with the sugar tax and minimum pricing, the people who forced this stupidity onto us should be forced to own the consequences.

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