As the UK awaits the findings of a key review regarding the potential for plain packaging of tobacco products to reduce the health costs of smoking, new data from Australia are raising serious questions regarding the effectiveness of such laws in curbing tobacco consumption.
Australia is currently the only country to have fully implemented a tobacco plain packaging law. After having previously rejected calls to pursue plain packaging laws, British lawmakers are currently said to be considering an about-face and putting plain packaging on the books.
But the data released by the Australian tobacco industry could raise red flags regarding that plan, as they show that in 2013 – the first year in which Australia’s plain packaging law was in effect – the number of cigarettes sold by manufacturers actually increased.
This increase during the first year under the plain packaging law followed four years in which sales had decreased by an average of about four percent.
The data have opponents of plain packaging voicing fresh concerns that if pursued, an Australian-style law would not decrease smoking, though it could stimulate illicit trade in tobacco products.
The black market sale of smuggled cigarettes is already known to be a problem in the UK, but previous studies by KPMG and London Economics have shown that illicit trade also spiked in Australia following the introduction of the country’s plain packaging law.
The KPMG study released last year found that illicit trade in tobacco in Oz had increased a record 13 percent over the prior year – the first time an increase had occurred since 2009.
The London Economics report, also released last year, similarly showed no reduction in smoking in Australia following the introduction of the plain packaging law. According to Dr. Gavan Conlon, the lead researcher involved in that report, “Over the timeframe of the analysis, the data does not demonstrate that there has been a change in smoking prevalence following the introduction of plain packaging despite an increase in the noticeability of the new health warnings.”
A study also released this week by professors from the University of Zurich and the University of Saarland in Germany indicates that plain packaging has failed to effect a reduction in tobacco consumption among 14 to 17 year olds. Plain packaging advocates have claimed that introduction of the policy would help to reduce smoking among children.