Dom Post on plain packaging

The editorial:

As Action on Smoking and Health spokesman Michael Colhoun noted, the ”scream test” is a good indication of how effective any initiative to reduce smoking rates might be. This holds that the louder the tobacco companies squeal, the greater chance of the measure having the desired result.

Actually that’s a stupid statement and a stupid test.

Let’s say the Govt passed a law saying that there will be a special company tax rate in NZ for tobacco companies – 95%. They would scream loudly about that, yet it would not reduce smoking by one person.

Why don’t we focus on effectiveness, not hatred.

New Zealand’s three main tobacco companies have also hinted at legal action to halt the move.

The Government should not be deterred by that threat.

Australia’s High Court last year rejected industry claims that the introduction of plain packets across the Tasman amounted to theft of intellectual property, the main argument used by tobacco companies.

There is still a WTO case on this issue, but I agree that legal issues should not be a major consideration (unless there is advise such a law would clearly breach treaties we have signed).

A report on from Germany’s Berenberg Bank last year described it as ”the most material outstanding threat” to the tobacco industry and said that it was expected to have a big impact on preventing young people from taking up smoking.

A report from a bank?

I am skeptical that plain packaging will reduce smoking rates. If there is evidence that it would make a significant difference, then I think there is a case for it.

As I have said many times before, the Government should trial plain packaging. So there is a control to trial against, the best way to do this is a geographic trial where the same policies, laws and taxes apply in both areas – with the sole exception of plain packaging only applying in the trial region. The trial region could be as large as say the South Island.  Over say three years you’d compare the change in smoking rates in both areas.

If plain packaging was shown to be effective, then NZ would be lauded around the world for doing a proper trial, which produced conclusive proof that plain packaging was effective. It would be implemented in dozen of countries within years.

If the trial showed plain packaging did not affect the smoking rate, then NZ could focus on policies that are effective such as the excise tax.

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