Adam Smith Institute report: Plain packaging has failed in Australia and will fail in Britain

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Adam Smith Institute report: Plain packaging has failed in Australia and will fail in Britain

Plain packaging has failed in Australia and will fail in Britain, says report:

  • Plain packaging for cigarettes does not appear to have reduced smoking rates in Australia, the only country to have tried plain packaging so far.

  • Illicit cigarette sales are way up, particularly "illicit whites" which are not legally sold anywhere in the world.

  • The proliferation of "illicit whites" has made cigarettes even more accessible to young people than before.

  • The report comes ahead of the government's plain packaging consultation announcement next Monday, March 31st. 

Plain packaging for cigarettes appears to have failed in the one country to have implemented it, Australia, a new report by the Adam Smith Institute and Reason Foundation has found. The report comes ahead of the government's plain packaging consultation announcement next Monday, March 31st. 

The report, "Smoking, Plain Packaging and Public Health" (http://www.adamsmith.org/sites/default/files/research/files/ASIsmokingplainpackagingWEB.pdf), looks at surveys of smokers in Australia which show that, although plain packaging may have led to stronger intentions to quit, many reported engaging in defensive behaviors such as covering up health warnings and even smoking more. In the year to July 2013 the proportion of smokers had not declined.

Another study, which looked at discarded packs, found that consumption of cigarettes in the year to July 2013 remained at the same level as in 2012, but found that the proportion of illicit cigarettes had increased substantially. This was corroborated by the most recent Annual Report of Australia’s Customs and Border Protection Service, which shows that the number of illicit cigarettes entering Australia has indeed risen dramatically in the past three years.

The discarded pack study concluded that contraband—much of which is in the form of finished cigarettes that are not legally sold anywhere in the world, known as “illicit whites”—now accounts for more than half of illegal sales and about 7.5% of all sales in Australia. 

The wide availability of illicit whites, in part due to Australia’s plain packaging rules, means adolescents now likely have greater access to cigarettes than previously—and at lower prices. Moreover, these illicit whites have no health warnings. On this basis, it seems reasonable to conclude that plain packaging has been at best useless and at worst counterproductive.

The author of the study, Julian Morris, Vice President of Research at Reason Foundation, notes that “On the basis of what we currently know, it appears that Australia’s experiment with plain packaging has failed to reduce rates of smoking among any of the target groups. Worse, it may have made smoking more attractive to the youth. Until we understand better the impact of plain packaging in Australia, it would be misguided to move forward with similar restrictions in Britain.”

For further comments or to arrange an interview, contact Kate Andrews, Communications Manager, at kate@adamsmith.org / 07584 778 207.

The Adam Smith Institute is an independent libertarian think tank based in London. It advocates liberal public policies to create a richer, freer world.

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