Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Whatever happened to plain packaging?

With the government set to introduce all the Theresa May (previously David Cameron) nanny state policies on food, no one in government seems able to predict what success looks like. How much will obesity fall back as a result of these costly interventions? Will the government repeal the laws if obesity hasn't dropped by 2025?

You won't get any answers from MPs or 'public health'. They know and we know that the policies won't make any difference and there will be no desire to seriously evaluate them in the future. As I have said many times, 'public health' is not a results-driven business.

Take plain packaging, for example. The battle for this stupid policy involved years of screeching and millions of pounds of taxpayers money spent on self-lobbying. What happened? Where is the audit?

Australia has had plain packaging since December 2012. Anti-smoking clown Simon Chapman said it was "almost like finding a vaccine that works very well against lung cancer." But what really happened?

National smoking figures are only published every three years Down Under and this month saw the latest set of figures. Over three years, the smoking rate had fallen by just one percentage point. Since 2012, the smoking rate has fallen at half the longterm average, as Jo Furnival explains:

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) released the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) this week. This survey has become a vital indicator of the performance of government health policies, including tobacco control. Previous surveys were carried out in 2010 before plain packaging for tobacco products was introduced, in 2013, the year following its introduction (along with other measures, including tax increases), and again in 2016.

The data shows that, prior to 2012, the per centage of daily smokers in Australia was in long-term, steady decline (a rate of 0.46 per cent annually for 20+ years). After plain packaging was introduced, this annual rate of decline slowed by almost a half to just 0.26 per cent between 2013 and 2019.

Moreover, the proportion of smokers planning to quit has not changed since plain packaging was introduced. Three in 10 smokers have no interest in quitting, the same percentage (30 per cent) as in 2010. Rather than this costly eight-year experiment, the Australian government would have been better off doing nothing at all.

Trebles all round! And it gets better...

The proportion of smokers using illicit, unbranded loose tobacco has increased by 37 per cent (10.5 per cent in 2010 to 14.4 per cent in 2019). Meanwhile, overall consumption of illegal tobacco products (including unbranded loose tobacco, along with contraband and counterfeit items) has risen by a whopping 80 per cent (from 11.5 per cent in 2012 to 20.7 per cent in 2019) and is now at a record level, according to a recent KPMG study.

Tremendous work, and all as predicted by those who opposed the policy.

Australia shows what happens when nanny state fanatics run the show. Ban e-cigarettes, introduce plain packaging and set taxes so high that buying from the black market is almost a moral duty. What could go wrong?

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