Monday 13 July 2020

Did plain packaging work?

We haven't heard much about plain packaging for a while. I assumed that ASH et al. were happy to let everybody forget about this damp squib while they moved onto the next thing. A study published John Britton and his team of anti-smoking zealots in 2018 had to concede that the policy hadn't had the promised effect on tobacco sales:

The implementation of standardized packaging legislation in the United Kingdom, which included minimum pack sizes of 20, was associated with significant increases overall in the price of manufactured cigarettes, but no clear deviation in the ongoing downward trend in total volume of cigarette sales.

That must have stuck in the craw, but it could hardly be denied. HMRC's tobacco bulletin keeps track of tobacco sales. It shows a steep decline in (legal) cigarette sales until 2016/17, no doubt largely thanks to the emergence of e-cigarettes, after which the downward trend slowed appreciably.

For roll-you-own tobacco, sales bottomed out in 2016/17 and have since risen by 20 per cent.


It's nigh on impossible for a credible academic to turn this pig's ear into a silk purse. And so the job was left to Anna Gilmore of Bath University's Tobacco Control Research Group, which is now awash with Bloomberg cash. You may remember Gilmore as the activist-academic who claimed, falsely, that the smoking ban led to a 10 per cent fall in heart attacks.

In a study published in the risible Tobacco Control journal, she once again claims that black is white. Rob Davies at the Guardian is one of the journalists to have fallen for it.

UK tobacco sales fell faster after plain packaging rules came into force 

Cigarette sales have decreased by about 20m a month after plain packaging rules and tougher taxes were introduced three years ago, researchers have found.

Prof Anna Gilmore, director of the Tobacco Control Research Group (TCRG), said: “The underlying rate of decline in tobacco sales almost doubled after these policies were implemented.”
It then says:
Monthly sales were almost 3.29bn individual cigarettes in May 2015, but fell to 3.16bn in April 2018.
That is nowhere near a decline of 20 million a month. Why is May 2015 being used as the starting point anyway? Plain packs weren't in circulation until early 2017 and were not mandatory until May 2017.
The study itself claims that....

Postimplementation, the average monthly decline in stick sales was 6.4 million (95%CI 0.1million to 12.7 million) sticks faster than prelegislation, almost doubling the speed of decline.

None of this bears any relation to the truth, but the truth is whatever the 'public health' lobby wants it to be. That the study can be debunked in five minutes by anybody who is familiar with the data is besides the point. It has generated a few headlines in Britain and can be cited as evidence by campaigners abroad. And that's all that matters.

No comments: