It has been recently reported in New South Wales (NSW), Australia that cigarette plain packaging, along with the hike in taxes has seen a resurgence in illegal tobacco. Some of the biggest buyers are teenagers.
The illegal smokes are sold without any health warnings and are half the price of those than can be bought legally, eight Australian dollars as opposed to nearly 16. They are either purchased from under the counter at legitimate stores or on street corners. Seizures of contraband according to the Australian Customs and Border Protection for 2007-2013 have risen from 107 million sticks to nearly double at 200 million.
A week ago in the suburbs of Fairfield and Bankstown $1 million in cash was appropriated along with 500,000 cigarettes and 70kg of loose tobacco.
The added worry to anti-smokering campaigners is that they are seen as “cool.” Rosie aged fifteen noted: “It just makes people more excited about original packaging,” she said: “It helps that they are cheaper.” Ashley who is also fifteen concurred, “The only thing plain packaging does is make original packaging cooler.”
Most teenagers also fail to appreciate the aggressive health messages. Thomas said, “I don’t really think its gets to people my age, the ads are for people who are already feeling the effects.” This is in contrast to a Gallup poll that found that 96 percent of people believe smoking to have some degree of harm.
As I have previously noted, after long declines in youth smoking, Australia has seen an increase in youth smoking over the last three years. There has been an increase of thirty six percent in 12-17 year olds smoking.
Professor Simon Chapman, a health academic from the University of Sydney, remains defiant in maintaining the effectiveness of plain packs. “When teenagers say ‘plain packaging isn’t working’ every other indicator would say that it is.” He also comments on the role of advertising and seems to be accusing tobacco companies of subliminal advertising to teenagers: “A lot of adult-targeted advertising is actually working, like a Trojan horse, on kids,” and are “really sensitive to adult content, if it’s directed at their parent, they pick it up too.”
However, Chapman is not helped in his opinion from the empirical evidence. Smoking rates have not statistically changed since plain packs. In fact, if you include illegal tobacco, it has risen in sympathy with youth smoking.
Chapman also has a chequered history in presenting and concluding on data. In 1995 a paper was published which demonstrated negligible deaths from environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). He says in a fax to Adrian Farrant at the Westmead Hospital and Community Health Services:
“..look at Table 7 in the way any journalist would, in only two groups do the estimates go over one death….. a reasonable conclusion will be that the idea that there is ANY lung cancer caused by ETS (environmental tobacco smoke) in Australia will be seen as a huge joke.” He adds:
“I think we had better get out a thesaurus and find a lot of words to express the words ‘conservative estimate’ in hundreds of different ways…. We are looking down the barrell (sic) of a MAJOR public relations problem …” Chapman concludes:
“I am very unhappy about turning the PR on this one over to the routine National Health and Medical Research Council (NH&MRC) route…we should alert the NH&MRC to the huge banana skin we are about to put in its path and urge top-level strategic discussion of how to handle this.”
The paper Chapman is referring to is in line with 85 percent of published scientific studies that show no statistical correlation between second hand cigarette smoke, lung cancer and heart disease.
When plain packaging was first mooted, it seemed that the mainstream media were quick to publish the opinions and ideas of proponents. As evidence has emerged and at best, no reduction in smoking can be attributed to plan packaging, the unintended effects of government interference have emerged. Organised criminal gangs, smuggling and surprisingly an increase in youth smoking. It seems that a jaded mainstream media are ready to report the increasing negative effects.
Some may even feel misled.