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Australia’s plain packaging is working: first comprehensive evaluation of world-first tobacco laws released

Thursday 19 March, 2015

The introduction of plain packaging of tobacco products in Australia is delivering on its promise to restrict the ability of the pack to create appeal, according to the first comprehensive evaluation of the legislation.

Published in a special supplement to the British Medical Journal, fourteen peer-reviewed papers examine various aspects of the implementation and the impact it has on the community, including young people and adult smokers.

Key findings of the evaluation include:

  • Plain packaging has delivered on its aim to reduce appeal of packs, particularly with adolescents and young adults
  • There was no evidence of an increase in the consumption of illicit "cheap white" cigarettes
  • The impact of plain packaging extends beyond expectation with studies suggesting the initiative encourages thinking about quitting and quit attempts

Cancer Council Victoria's Professor Melanie Wakefield, whose team led the evaluation, said research shows plain packaging reduced positive perceptions of cigarette packs among teenagers and reveals that smokers were noticing and paying more attention to the graphic health warnings.

"These papers provide the first comprehensive set of results of real world plain packaging and they are pointing very strongly to success in achieving the legislation's aims.

"These results should give confidence to countries considering plain packaging that plain packs not only reduce appeal of tobacco products and increase the effectiveness of health warnings but also diminish the tobacco industry's ability to use packs to mislead consumers about the harms of smoking."

Study co-leader Dr Michelle Scollo examined claims made by the tobacco industry concerning prices and illicit tobacco, noting:

"The tobacco industry has been very vocal in its concerns that plain packaging would result in a collapse in prices and increased use of illicit tobacco - these studies found no evidence of either of these effects, and despite an increase in use of value brands, a clear indication of increased prices across the board."

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Mr Todd Harper said the research debunked the scare tactics of the tobacco industry which has been tirelessly lobbying politicians and decision makers with exaggerated tales of black markets, criminal gangs and a proliferation of cheap cigarettes.

"The pack is one of the last pillars of tobacco industry marketing, and in jurisdictions without plain packaging the pack will continue to be used as an unscrupulous tool to keep and attract customers."

Mr Harper said this was especially dangerous in a time when marketing innovations of packaging could evolve to include music, touch and smell to increase appeal.