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Report claims plain packaging has cut smoking rates

Packaging helped cut smoking in past three years in Australia

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 29 February 2016

The introduction of standardised “plain” packaging of cigarettes in Australia three years ago was responsible for an estimated 25% of the drop in smoking rates there since then, claims the Australian government.

The Australian government released a comprehensive report* at the weekend saying that the plain packaging of tobacco was responsible for one quarter of the decline in smoking in Australia over the last three years from 19.4% to 17.2%.

The findings of the post-implementation review reflect those of the independent inquiry** by Sir Cyril Chantler published in 2014, which concluded that it was very likely that introducing the policy in the UK as part of a comprehensive strategy would lead to “a modest but important reduction in the uptake and prevalence of smoking”.

The new report says: “The analysis estimated that the 2012 packaging changes resulted in a statistically significant decline in smoking prevalence [among Australians aged 14 years and over] of 0.55 percentage points over the post-implementation period, relative to what the prevalence would have been without the packaging changes.

“This decline accounts for approximately one quarter of the total decline in average prevalence rates observed between the 34 months prior to implementation of the measure and the 34 months following the implementation of the measure (with average prevalence falling from 19.4% to 17.2%).”

The analysis concludes: “Given the ways in which the TPP [Tobacco Plain Packaging] Act was intended to work, the policy’s effects on overall smoking prevalence and tobacco consumption are likely to grow over time.”

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) said: “Big Tobacco will continue to deny it, but the Australian government report is conclusive.

“Putting cigarettes in standardised ‘plain’ packaging, as part of a comprehensive strategy, has led to a significant decline in smoking prevalence. From May this year, the tobacco industry in the UK will also have to ditch their glitzy packaging and we look forward to reaping the benefits in years to come.”

Forest, the organisation that represents smokers, said the conclusion that plain packaging had had an impact on smoking rates was mere speculation.

Its director Simon Clark said: “The jury is still out on the impact of plain packaging. The claim that a quarter of the total decline in smoking rates in Australia is attributable to plain packaging since the legislation was introduced is speculation not fact.

“Figures suggest that plain packaging has made little or no difference. The long-term decline in smoking rates in Australia hasn’t deviated from historical trends.

“The most likely reason for the continuing fall in smoking rates in Australia is not plain packs but three excise hikes of 12.5%. Price not packaging is a far bigger issue for consumers but increasing the cost of tobacco isn't without risk because it drives more smokers to the black market.”

* Tobacco Plain Packaging. Post–implementation Review – Department of Health, Australian Government
** Standardised packaging of tobacco. Report of the independent review undertaken by Sir Cyril Chantler. April 2014

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