Tuesday 22 September 2020

Plain packaging doesn't work - new study

Another 'public health' win!

A study published in Nature Human Behaviour looks at Australia's experiment with plain packaging for tobacco and comes to a conclusion that will surprise few regular readers...

Here we examine the effectiveness of Australia’s plain packaging law, which coincided with a change in graphic and text health warnings, by using nationally indicative data 5 years post implementation. We measured the effect of the law on smoking prevalence, tobacco expenditure, expenditure intensity and quantity of tobacco consumed, using New Zealand as a control country in a difference-in-differences research design. We uncover a substitution effect that is robust to different specifications and control countries. In response to the policy, smokers switched from more expensive to cheaper cigarettes and reduced their overall tobacco expenditure and expenditure intensity. However, as smoking became less costly, smokers consumed more cigarettes.

D'oh! If only someone had predicted this way back in 2012...

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. Price is widely seen as the single most important factor in influencing cigarette consumption, and yet here is a policy that will reduce demand for the most expensive brands, that will encourage the industry to compete by lowering prices and which is likely to stimulate the black market. For the zealots of the anti-tobacco industry, anything that harms Big Tobacco’s profits is a good thing, but in this instance, what is bad for the tobacco industry is also likely to be bad for public health.
I was not the only one saying this, of course. It was obvious to everyone but the 'public health' fanatics.
This is not the first time a study written by authors sympathetic to plain packaging has found no positive impact. These authors have a policy proposal to paper over the cracks of the last failed policy.

To discourage such substitution and to help the policy achieve its intended outcomes, policymakers should consider implementing auxiliary measures, such as taxes or price floors.

I'm afraid they've already tried that, guys. A pack of twenty cigarettes costs $40 these days (£22 /US $30). That, too, has had predictable unintended consequences.

All this, combined with the ban on e-cigarettes, cements Australia's position as the clown country of tobacco control.

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