Two years of plain packaging in Australia

for tobacca products was introduced in Australia two years ago.

An analysis of Australia’s plain packaging was conducted by Professor Sinclair Davidson and Dr Ashton De Silva from the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing at RMIT.  They conclude:

“Despite our econometric efforts, the data refused to yield any indication this policy has been successful; there is no empirical evidence to support the notion that the plain packaging policy has resulted in lower household expenditure on tobacco than there otherwise would have been. There is some faint evidence to suggest, ceteris paribus, household expenditure on tobacco increased.”

They also note:

Further clouding some commentators’ appreciation of the situation, the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey results (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2014) indicated that overall tobacco consumption was down on 2010 data – but that cannot establish any efficacy of the plain packaging policy per se in addition to the long-term downward trend in tobacco consumption.

This is why I support a regional trial of plain packaging in NZ (if it is found to be legal by the WTO). That way we could get hard data on whether plain packaging has a significant impact on rates, beyond the already existing downwards trend.

The researchers note:

At best, we can determine the plain packaging policy introduced in December 2012 has not reduced household expenditure of tobacco once we control for price effects, or the long-term decline of tobacco expenditure, or even the latent attributes of the data.

To the contrary, we are able to find a suggestion that household expenditure of tobacco has, ceteris paribus, increased. In our forecasting exercise the actual data come close to breaking through the 80 per cent confidence interval. While we do not want to over-emphasise these results, we do conclude that any evidence to suggest that the plain packaging policy has reduced household expenditure on tobacco is simply lacking.

Also even Otago University seems very doubtful on whether plain packaging will reduce smoking rates. In a blog post here, four researchers put plain packaging in a category of “Uncertain but possible” impact for achieving the NZ smokefree goal.

I’m not against plain packaging if there is proof it will have a significant impact on smoking rates. But as it is basically a quite draconian precedent in terms of state confiscation of intellectual property, the evidence needs to be very strong that it will be effective. So far there is no such evidence.

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