Plain packaging on cigarettes leads to more smoking?

cigarettesAs well as levying greater and greater taxes and duties on cigarettes, one way in which the Government has been looking to help reduce smoking is through hiding packets. Already cigarette boxes are covered in stores, but Ministers decided, back in 2012, to hold off on introducing plain packaging across all brands until there was examinable evidence from Australia, who did exactly that in December 2012.

New figures based on the first full year of plain paper packaging shows that, actually, more tobacco was sold in Australia than before the packaging ban- reversing a five-year declining trend.

Later this week, an independent review will report to UK ministers on the case for banning branded cigarette packs. Health campaigners claim the move would protect children, who are considered to be less likely to take up smoking if packs are unbranded. However, the findings from Australia suggest that actually, if no-one knows which brand you are smoking, you may as well buy cheaper brands. And if cigarettes are cheaper, you can buy more of them. Common sense, innit?

And it’s not like no-one saw this coming. Back when the UK announced a review of cigarette packaging in March 2012, we reported that London Economics predicted exactly this outcome. It’s like they have experience in economics or something.

Deborah Arnott, director of Action on Smoking and Health, said: “We are repeatedly seeing attempts to undermine the case for standardised packaging. The number one reason for standardised packaging is to protect children. It is about dissuading them from taking up smoking - and one year’s data from Australia about delivery levels of tobacco tells us nothing about that.” But then she would say that. She also recommends that even greater taxes be used to ‘level up’ the price differential across brands.

It is worth noting that the Australian figures being presented  have come from tobacco peddler Philip Morris (of Marlboro fame), and represent wholesale amount shipped to Australia, rather than retail figures. Eoin Dardis, director of corporate affairs for Philip Morris in Britain, said: “When you commoditise a product, people go after the price. If people are buying cheaper stuff, maybe they’re smoking more of it, I don’t know ... It’s definitely a point of interest and that’s something that absolutely needs to be explored because that’s the counter of what this policy was seeking to achieve.”

But then he would say that.

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