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Tobacco industry’s plain packaging predictions a bust, new research shows

Friday 29 August, 2014

NEW research published today suggests that several of the tobacco industry's major predictions about the introduction of plain packaging have not been borne out.

During its extensive but ultimately unsuccessful campaign against plain packaging in Australia, the tobacco industry predicted that plain packaging would harm the business of smaller retailers as smokers would be more likely to purchase their cigarettes from supermarkets.

The tobacco industry also claimed smokers would be more likely to purchase cheap brands imported from Asia and to use illicit tobacco.

However, Cancer Council Victoria research published in BMJ Open today found: 

  • The proportion of smokers purchasing from supermarkets did not increase between 2011 (65.4%) and 2013 (65.7%) and the percentage purchasing from small mixed business outlets did not decline (2011: 9.2%; 2012: 11.2%);
  • Prevalence of use of low-cost Asian brands was low and did not increase between 2011 (1.1%) and 2013 (0.9%);
  • The proportion of smokers reporting current use of unbranded illicit tobacco did not change significantly between2011 (2.3%) and 2013 (1.9%); and
  • In 2013, only 2.6% of cigarette smokers reported having purchased one or more packets of cigarettes in non-compliant packaging in the past three months; 1.7% had purchased one or more packets from an informal seller in the past year.

Quit Victoria Policy Manager, Kylie Lindorff, said the research would provide useful intelligence to other countries around the world who were considering pursuing plain packaging.

This research suggests that none of these scaremongering scenarios the tobacco industry predicted as part of its bid to stop plain packaging in Australia have eventuated," she said.

"As Big Tobacco desperately tries to misrepresent the impact of plain packaging in Australia to try to stop the dominoes falling in the UK and beyond, this research yet again underscores why you can't believe a word this industry says."

Cancer Council Victoria CEO, Todd Harper, said the tobacco industry's failed doomsday predictions stood in stark contrast to the early signs that plain packaging was having an impact in Australia.

"The tobacco industry has continued to use flawed reports and misleading data to try and stop other countries and in particular the UK from following our lead," Mr Harper said.

"While prepared to spend big bucks on lobbying and legal action, this industry has no regard for the 15,000 lives lost every year to smoking."

About the research:

Early evidence about predicted unintended consequences of standardized packaging of tobacco products in Australia: a cross-sectional study of place of purchase, regular brands and use of illicit tobacco was published in BMJ Open and uses data from the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Victorian Smoking and Health surveys.