Plain packaging

A J Park write at NZ Lawyer:

As discussed, Article 2.2 of the TBT says that technical regulations should not be more trade restrictive than necessary to “fulfil” a legitimate objective, and that international standards should be adopted except where they would be ineffective or inappropriate for achieving those goals. To minimise trade barriers, only the part of the standard that is necessary should be adopted.

Studies on whether of tobacco products is effective in reducing smoking rates have shown mixed results. Evidence does show that plain packs are less attractive to smokers than branded packs, that has negative connotations, and that health warnings become more noticeable in the absence of other marks. But does this mean it will result in fewer people smoking? The studies show smokers would be more likely to choose a branded pack than a plain pack, but is there evidence they would choose no pack over a plain pack?

A comprehensive review of 37 leading plain-packaging studies showed plain packaging reduced the appeal and attractiveness of cigarettes, and that consumers viewing plain packages were more likely to think about quitting (Moodie et al, Plain tobacco packaging: A systematic review, Public Health Research Consortium, 2012). However, the evidence as to whether that would lead to smokers actually quitting was not conclusive. As the authors noted, because plain packaging has not yet been introduced in any country, it has not been possible to evaluate the impact of the policy in practice.

Which makes me wonder again why we are proceeding, not on the basis of science but on hope.

The sensible thing to do would be to wait for results of Australia’s plain packaging regime.

An alternative would be to scientifically test the policy in New Zealand. Say introduce plain packaging in the South Island only, and see if South Island smoking rates change over time any differently to North Island ones.

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