Let’s do a controlled test of plain packaging

May 9th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Eric Crampton blogs:

There isn’t any real-world evidence on the effects of cigarette legislation, mostly because nobody’s really done it yet. What we have are a bunch of surveys of smokers and non-smokers on how cigarette packaging makes them feel, whether they think different designs are more or less likely to encourage them to smoke, and the like. In other words, a bunch of hypothetical musings in low consequence environments.

If we’re stuck having Tariana Turia’s proposed legislation, let’s do some good with it. Set it up as an experiment. Implement plain packaging in part of the country, but not elsewhere. Then see what happens. If it seems successful after a few years, implement it everywhere; if it doesn’t, abandon it. Either way, publish all the results so we have a better handle on what works. So plain packaging in Christchurch but not in Dunedin, in Wellington but not in Rotorua. I’m sure there are plenty of folks who specialize in designing randomised control trials of this sort who’d be able to run things.

This is an excellent idea and one that plain packaging advocates should support. If they are sure it will reduce smoking rates, this is their chance to prove it.

If we apply plain packaging to the whole country at once, we have no way of knowing whether the policy does anything. A careful randomised control trial could tell us something useful.

Some measures you can not test geographically, but plain packaging is one you can. The Government should be pro-science and agree to trial it.

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14 Responses to “Let’s do a controlled test of plain packaging”

  1. Whaleoil (766 comments) says:

    We already have a plain packaging test in place, for at least 20 years in supermarkets with their store brands.

    It is so successful that supermarkets now prefer to run store brand or plain packaging. It cuts costs on packaging, minimises advertising spend and most importantly increases profit.

    The cigarette companies should be embracing plain packaging, with great gusto, the surest way to kill off the proposal would be for them to welcome it.

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  2. kowtow (7,598 comments) says:

    This is not an excellent idea.

    If the Apartheid Party wants a smoke free Aotearoa then let’s have legislation that Maori Party voters can’t buy ciggies.

    National needs to grow a pair.

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  3. KiwiGreg (3,170 comments) says:

    Yes either ban tobacco or leave it alone.

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  4. Graeme Edgeler (3,262 comments) says:

    The New Zealand Law Society has recently proposed the adoption of new rules around mandatory continuing legal education.

    I suggested they should impose them on a random selection of lawyers for two or three years, and see if anyone can tell the difference at the end (will such lawyers have fewer upheld complaints of incompetence, for example?)

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  5. gazzmaniac (2,317 comments) says:

    I think that the country should do a scientific study on all lawyers, and that is to get rid of them entirely for three years and see if everyone survives without them. I think only lawyers would object to this, but there’s only one way to prove that hypothesis.

    You could probably add politicians to the study too.

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  6. Scott Chris (5,875 comments) says:

    Yes either ban tobacco or leave it alone.

    I disagree. Some substances are too powerful to be ignored and too valuable to be banned. (ignoring for the moment issues of personal freedom)

    A plain packaging trial is an excellent idea except that manufacturing plain packaging specifically for our market may be problematic, especially for the niche brands.

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  7. RRM (9,435 comments) says:

    The Government should be pro-science and agree to trial it.

    No, the Govt should go further the other way, and refuse to enforce plain packaging.

    If cigarettes need all these rules around them, then by rights my bottle of hawkes Bay Cab Merlot at home in the cupboard should have plain labelling with pictures of car crash victims and fetal alcohol syndrome babies all over it. I wonder how many MPs would be in favour of that…?

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  8. Andrei (2,499 comments) says:

    The biggest profiteers from tobacco is the Government itself – over a billion dollars per year.

    The reason why they can get away with this is that middle class voters don’t as a rule smoke, while the poor do.

    And being puritanical calvanists (though for the most part now secular) it tickles their fancy to deny the poor their pleasures

    While the Government cynically fills it coffers.

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  9. Crampton (214 comments) says:

    I do not favour plain packaging. But if we’re stuck with it because MMP means National has to accommodate Tariana Turia’s religious obsession with tobacco, we could at least set it up such that we learn something about whether it does anything.

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  10. slijmbal (1,210 comments) says:

    @WO

    “We already have a plain packaging test in place, for at least 20 years in supermarkets with their store brands.

    It is so successful that supermarkets now prefer to run store brand or plain packaging. It cuts costs on packaging, minimises advertising spend and most importantly increases profit. ”

    The plain packaging is actually a brand in its own right deliberately so (they even call it a brand) and is why supermarket will have 2 types of house brands – the budget and signature brands in progressive’s case for instance. They spend a reasonable amount of advertising spending on the house brands and a surprising amount of branded spend is paid for by the vendors and not the supermarket – so it doesn’t make that much difference to advertising costs. They forego revenues by putting best selling house branded products in places that they might otherwise get paid for by the vendors.

    The packaging pretty much costs the same whether plain or not as do many other costs and the main source of increased profit is they screw the vendor down as they buy the basic product by volume purchases.

    So not comparable as is actually a branded sale that happens to have plain packaging.

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  11. Lance (2,444 comments) says:

    I agree that secondhand smoke should not be inflicted on anyone other than the smoker but beyond that the legislation is ridiculous.
    The bastards will come after alcohol next with fucked up warnings and plain packaging.

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  12. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    The Government should be pro-science and agree to trial it.

    Trials are good, huh?

    Except for National Standards.

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  13. Steve (North Shore) (4,496 comments) says:

    Keep branding, keep advertising, because it earns TAX dollars. The less people smoke, the more I pay in TAX.
    And yes I’ve paid my share by smoking for more than 40 years. I stopped for a reason.
    Now you may think otherwise but I say TAX to the hilt, it will not stop the smokers. Selfish? dam right I am

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  14. Seán (396 comments) says:

    Sort of like how the teacher unions wanted National Standards to be trialled….

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