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Tobacco controls do not spark rise in illicit tobacco use

Plain packaging and tax rises have not lead to smokers turning to contraband cigarettes

Mark Gould

Wednesday, 01 April 2015

Concerns that the introduction of plain packaging or tax rises on tobacco will lead to increased sales and use of illicit tobacco seem to have been refuted by new research.

The research, presented at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Thoracic Society for Australia and New Zealand, was based two large surveys of discarded cigarette packs, held 12 months apart, in a range of areas of Sydney that covered the full socio-demographic spectrum.

It found no increase in the proportion of non-domestic cigarettes since the introduction of plain packaging and the associated series of tax increases and that only a very small proportion (1.4%) were illicit or contraband.

The great majority of the non-domestic cigarette packs found came from a limited range of brands of the major cigarette manufacturers and were destined for the South Korean market.

The research was conducted by Professor Matthew Peters, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at Macquarie University and Miriam Saffron, a Medical Student at the Australian National University, Canberra. It was a response to empty cigarette pack surveys, performed and analysed for the tobacco industry, which have been used in an attempt to influence public policy.

“There have been repeated claims that the introduction of cigarette plain packaging leads to contraband, illegal cigarettes flooding the local market. We felt it was important surveys be conducted independent of the tobacco industry and with full disclosure of all findings – not simply those data that were convenient for the funding agencies” explains Professor Peters.

“What is very clear from our survey, using the preferred methodology of the tobacco industry, is that there has been no increase in illicit tobacco use in Sydney with the recent advances in public policy. Governments overseas have no reason to fear a flood of illicit sales as they progress plain packaging legislation.”

“Given that there is some organised distribution and sales of non-domestic cigarettes it would serve the community well if effective track and trace technology was introduced that would allow both the Government and Tobacco manufacturers to identify where in the supply chain their products are being diverted into illegal importation and sale,” Professor Peters concludes.

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