The evidence for plain, standardised packaging 1

Japan Tobacco International (makers of Silk Cut and Benson and Hedges) are up to their old tricks again. Just weeks after the Advertising Standards Authority ruled their last advertising campaign to be misleading and in breach of the advertising code of practice, they are throwing money at a (no doubt grateful) newspaper industry again.

Over the weekend rumours started to spread of a new tobacco industry advertising campaign, trailed in the Scotsman and Independent. To the great excitement of tobacco industry supporters on Twitter we heard this would reveal civil servants admitting there is “no hard evidence” for plain packs. But when it arrived it was a bit of damp squib.

Partly this is because at first the ad only appeared in the Daily Telegraph, although the Scotsman followed this morning. Mostly this is because the game-changing revelation in the advert is, well, a bit rubbish.

So an official at Westminster’s Department of Health once sent a letter to the Australian Government using the phrase “no hard evidence” with regard to plain packs. You can spin that any way you like (and they have) but it clearly refers to the fact that plain, standardised packaging is a new idea and at the time there were no countries where you could monitor the impact and say “look, this is how it worked there”. The full line is “nobody has done this, and therefore there isn’t any hard evidence that it works”. This we already knew – so there are no new revelations here, just the same old tobacco industry up to its same old tricks.

Since the memo in question was written (nearly two years ago) Australia has implemented standardised packaging. While we are still waiting for detailed studies of the impact we note that
– A real life study in Australia, which monitored transactions in stores selling tobacco, found that the introduction of standardised packaging did not create the delays and serving errors predicted by the tobacco industry
– A recent story in The Herald has a retailer lobby group refer to unpublished research that four out of five retailers say tobacco sales have reduced

And even if an idea is new it can be thoroughly tested before being put in practice. This is certainly the case for standardised packaging – and it has passed with flying colours. A review of 37 such tests found “strong evidence….. that plain packaging would reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products”. Some examples of these studies can be found on ASH Scotland’s website.

As more and more countries become convinced by the evidence for standardised packaging the tobacco companies are clearly rattled. So the adverts can be seen as a classic example of the scream test.


One comment

  1. Now we hear that researchers in Australia have studied the actual impact of standardised packaging on retailers. You’ll remember that tobacco industry mouthpieces gave dire warnings of huge delays and constant serving errors, resulting in customers going elsewhere, job losses and local shops closing. Well, none of that has happened. After a week or so to get used to the new setup it seems that transactions times haven’t increased at all.

    Read about it here –

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