Plain packaging

July 4th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

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.

5 Responses to “Plain packaging”

  1. MikeG (425 comments) says:

    No mention is made of trying to prevent people starting to smoke. As stated above “plain packaging has negative connotations”, if this stops people even starting to smoke then it is worthwhile.

    “An alternative would be to scientifically test the policy in New Zealand” – who do you propose pays for this testing? The Government?

    [DPF: What cost is there in the testing. We measure smoking rates anyway. Just have the law apply to one island only, and see what change in rates occur]

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  2. Other_Andy (2,678 comments) says:

    Sometimes I wonder if DPF has joined the paternalistic, authoritarian left.

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  3. willtruth (245 comments) says:

    Good suggestion. I thought you were going to re-iterate the classic catch-22 closing down response to any public health initiative that we can’t try it until there is evidence that trying it would work, and the only evidence you would accept that it would work would be to try it….but we shouldn’t do that until we have evidence etc….

    We would never do anything if that was the test, and many improvements in the past (public sewers, clean drinking water, seat belts in cars) would have been dismissed as too expensive and speculative.

    So … great to see you would support a trial. In the UK much new regulatory legislation allows for “experimental staged commencement by reference to specified areas”. See for example section 49 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. We should have more of that in NZ.

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  4. boredboy (250 comments) says:

    My understanding is that cigarette plain packaging is designed to remove part of the ‘cache’ for prospective cigarette smokers.

    The idea being that the attraction for new customers (99% of whom are young people) is, in part, identifying with a brand.

    If you remove that brand cache, you cut out a large percentage of people who are ‘sucked in’ that way.

    Clearly this is in New Zealand’s interests.

    Just as an aside, the cigarette companies are crapping themselves over this. They know the effect this will have on their prospective new customer base (kids) and have gone to such lengths as offshoring their registered offices from Australia to Asia so they can take legal action on the basis that Australia is imposing trade barriers; umongst other action.

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  5. Yvette (3,030 comments) says:

    Big Tobacco is getting even bigger in Lower Hutt as Imperial Tobacco’s Petone factory gears up to send 4 billion cigarettes a year to Australia.
    The long-established factory in Richmond St will be quadrupling its exports across the ditch and introducing 50 new jobs, with a two-year, $45-million upgrade nearing completion.

    Wonder if they are supplying bulk cigarettes or packeted to Australia. Who’s law applies?

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