Plain packs go up in smoke

It has been 18 months since the Australian government introduced legislation mandating that all smoking products be sold in plain, olive-green packaging. Data from the first 12 months of the scheme suggest that the policy has been completely ineffective at decreasing the rate of smoking. According to industry research, Australians bought 59million more cigarettes in the 12 months after the plain-packaging legislation came into effect than they did in the 12 months previous.

The usual public-health cheerleaders have tried to skew the results, but this lame nitpicking only illustrates how fact-lite and dogmatic the anti-smoking brigade has become. When plain packs were introduced, there was very little evidence that they would reduce smoking rates. The policy seemed primarily aimed at taking a potshot at tobacco companies and making public-health advocates feel good about themselves. If health-lobby backslapping was a desired policy outcome, this piece of legislation has delivered in spades.

Addressing the ineffectiveness of plain packs, Michael Moore, CEO of Australia’s Public Health Association, said ‘plain packaging was never the silver bullet. It was another weapon in the armoury.’ One wonders how many ineffective weapons that armoury needs.

Charlie Pearson is a writer based in London.

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