Tuesday, 22 May 2018

"Strong and compelling evidence" that plain packaging failed

The UK's 'public health' racket is upset that the Tobacco Manufacturers Association has spotted that smoking rates have been rising since plain packaging was introduced. Awkwardly, the figures come from an unimpeachable 'public health' source curated by their own activists. At the very least, they show that the smoking rate has been flat-lining since plain packaging became mandatory and the Tobacco Products Directive came into full effect.

ASH's response has been predictably pathetic and can be summarised as 'muh, Big Tobacco'...

Governments need to apply the rule of thumb known as the ‘scream test’, if the industry is campaigning so hard to prevent it, clearly standardised ‘plain’ packaging does work, otherwise Big Tobacco wouldn’t care.

Because most industries would just love it if the government banned them from using their own logos and trademarks to appease a bunch of ignorant fanatics, wouldn't they? How dare the Tobacco Manufacturers Association assess public policy on the basis of real world outcomes?

When it comes to the evidence that the policy has been ineffective, the report JTI commissioned from Europe Economics ignores the fact that it was always known that plain standardised packaging would have the biggest impact on discouraging young people from taking up smoking rather than in helping addicted adult smokers quit. This is a much smaller group than existing adult smokers, so any such effect will be small, particularly in the early years.

In the first year or two of implementation most young people at the age of initiation will have been exposed throughout their life to the colourfully branded packaging as it was prior to the introduction of standardised plain packs. As with the advertising ban, it is in future years when young people grow up never having seen such packaging that we expect it to have greatest impact.

This effect will be cumulative as young people grow up into adulthood in cohorts with lower smoking rates, and older smokers die off. The Europe Economics report only includes data up to January 2018 so it simply cannot capture any of this.

So the story now is that we shouldn't have expected to see any effect on the smoking rates for years. It's a long term process and it would be naive to assume that there would be an immediate impact.

Strangely, that wasn't the story in 2014 when ASH described a bog standard decline in Australia's smoking rate as 'strong and compelling evidence' for plain packaging...

Huge drop in Australian smoking rates attributed to standardised packs

New figures released by the Australian government have shown adult smoking rates have fallen by a massive 15%. Before the measure was introduced in December 2012, daily smoking prevalence stood at 15.1% and has now fallen to 12.8%.

Standardised packaging is the only new policy intervention over this time period and is therefore the most likely reason for the significant fall in smoking prevalence. The survey was conducted before the Government’s major hike in tobacco tax of 12.5% in December 2013.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of health charity ASH said:

“The UK government is currently consulting on standardised packaging before deciding whether to proceed and has asked for new and emerging evidence. Well here it is and it demonstrates a massive decline in smoking prevalence in Australia following introduction of standardised packaging. This is exactly the strong and convincing evidence the tobacco industry said was needed.

This press release was characteristically dishonest. Although ASH claimed that 'Before the measure was introduced in December 2012, daily smoking prevalence stood at 15.1%', that figure actually comes from 2010, more than two years before plain packaging took effect. There is no way of nothing whether the smoking rate went up, down or stayed the same after December 2012 because the Aussies only measure national smoking prevalence every three years. What we do know, however, is that between 2013 and 2016 - the first full period under plain packaging - the smoking rate was flat.

Nevertheless, it is clear that ASH believed that plain packaging could and should be judged on the basis of what happened to the smoking rate in the early months. They expected it to have an immediate effect and they (falsely) claimed that it did.

Fortunately, the UK has much more detailed, monthly data so we can see that there has been no immediate drop in this country. On the contrary, the long-term decline has stopped and rates have started rising somewhat. Using the same criteria as ASH used a few years ago, but with much better data, we find 'strong and compelling evidence' that plain packaging not only fails but backfires.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

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