Government’s plain packaging proposals for cigarettes will bring no benefits to public
• There is no evidence that the proposals will reduce consumption or give any public health benefit.
• Plain packaging may lead to an increase in the counterfeit cigarette trade, making cheap tobacco more easily available to young would-be smokers.
• The policy creates a dangerous precedent – plain packaging could be extended to other products such as alcohol and fatty foods.
Ahead of a public consultation on the plain-packaging of cigarettes, the Adam Smith Institute have released a report today (Monday) arguing that the proposals will do nothing for public health and are profoundly illiberal. There is no evidence that plain packaging will have any effect on existing smokers or the smoking rate. The policy represents a desperate attempt by the public health lobby and government officials to be seen as ‘clamping down’ on tobacco in an increasingly maniacal war on smoking.
No Health Benefits
The plain packaging rule is aimed at stopping non-smokers from making a decision to engage in a habit. However, there is no evidence that the colour and logos on a pack of cigarettes is an influencing factor on people choosing to start smoking. Indeed, in the case of increasing the graphic warnings on packs, a comprehensive Canadian study found that “the warnings have not made a discernable impact on smoking prevalence”. Previous studies show that packaging design does little to impact the smoking rate.
Smoking numbers have not changed since 2007 with the rise of the ‘denormalisation’ of tobacco and aggressive anti-smoker policies. Aggressive anti-smoking policies don’t appear to work. Furthermore, plain packaging has been recognised as the weakest and least popular of ASH’s (Action on Health and Smoking) 12 anti-smoking policies proposed in 2008.
The Slippery Slope
Apart from the lack of health benefits there is also the risk that such a policy would be introduced for alcohol, fatty foods or sugary drinks. What happens today in tobacco tends to happen to other unhealthy products tomorrow. In fact, this slippery slope trend has already started in Australia, where they are currently planning to introduce plain packaging. As soon as the Australian government had approved the policy they swiftly moved on to look at how this could be applied to alcohol. Once plain packaging is enshrined in law for tobacco it will be easily extended to other lifestyle choices. That’s why the Adam Smith Institute argues the nanny state juggernaut must be stopped in its tracks.
Counterfeiting and intellectual property
In order to introduce plain packaging the government would need to breach international trade rules and confiscate tobacco companies’ intellectual property, without any proof that this would yield public health benefits. Furthermore, there is reason to believe the policy will have a negative effect both on public health and the tobacco industry.
Already 1 in 9 cigarettes around the world is counterfeit, with counterfeit cigarettes often having two to three times the level of heavy metals found in legitimate brands. Plain packaging will mean the standardising of cigarette packaging, which will help illicit trade. The policy is likely to boost the black market in the UK, offering cheaper cigarettes more likely to lure young and new customers. Any illicit trade can only hinder efforts to reduce smoking, so plain packaging proposals may in reality be damaging for public health.
Plain packaging, if introduced, would be a triumph of a dogmatic minority over the public. It would be an indiscriminate, illiberal law with no basis in evidence, reason or commonsense, whilst masquerading as a public health initiative. Author of the report Plain Packaging: Commercial expression, anti-smoking extremism and the risks of hyper-regulation, Christopher Snowdon, adds:
“It is extraordinary that a government which claims to be against excessive regulation should be contemplating a law which even the provisional wing of the anti-smoking lobby considered unthinkable until very recently. It seems that fanaticism has become institutionalised and a handful of extremists have become the de facto policy makers in matters related to tobacco. The public are gradually waking up to the fact that these neo-prohibitionists will never be satisfied. There is always another cause to campaign for, always new demands to be met. If it is not smoking, it is drinking. If it is not drinking, it is eating.
Plain packaging is the most absurd, patronising and counterproductive policy yet advanced under the disingenuous pretext of ‘public health’. It will serve only to inconvenience retailers, stigmatise consumers and delight counterfeiters. Those who would dictate what we eat and drink are already incorporating plain packaging into their plans. It’s time to say ‘Enough.’ The monomaniacs have had their own way for too long.”
ASH got hold of the report early doors and came up with their own press release on Friday...
Tobacco industry “invisible hand” behind Adam Smith Institute ‘plain packs’ report
A report by the Adam Smith Institute published today in advance of a public consultation on tobacco packaging advances the views of the tobacco industry, namely that putting cigarettes in plain standardised packaging would have no public health benefit, would increase the illicit trade in tobacco and would set a “dangerous precedent” for other products.
All of these arguments misrepresent the truth and ignore the fact that glitzy packs are designed to attract new young smokers to replace the100,000 in the UK who are killed each year by their habit.
Firstly, there is now a large body of evidence to show that plain packaging will be effective. Experimental studies and surveys from around the world show that plain packs are less appealing, strengthen the impact of the health warnings, and make the packs less misleading.
Secondly, there is no evidence that plain packaging will lead to an increase in tobacco smuggling. Existing packs are already easily counterfeited. Plain packs will still have to have covert markings, tax stamps and health warnings that are required on current packs so they will be no easier to counterfeit. And the argument that it will “breach international trade rules and confiscate tobacco companies’ intellectual property” is also fallacious, according to the tobacco industry’s own legal advice, revealed in litigation.
Thirdly, the “domino theory” i.e. that once a measure has been applied to tobacco it will be applied to other products is patently false. The same argument was used against the ban on tobacco advertising, but 9 years after the tobacco ban in the UK, alcohol advertising is still permitted with no sign of it being prohibited. Tobacco is a uniquely dangerous consumer product which is why there is a WHO health treaty (the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) to regulate tobacco use.
Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH commented:
“Why would the tobacco industry and its allies be so vehemently opposed to plain packaging if they weren’t so frightened that plain packaging would work? [Er, if you read the report, you'll find out—CJS] The Adam Smith Institute, by publishing this report, is acting as the mouthpiece for the tobacco industry, as it has done on many previous occasions. It should come as no great surprise that the Institute takes a pro-tobacco line but it should be more transparent about its association with Big Tobacco.”
The Adam Smith Institute has in turn responded to the 'Big Tobacco' allegation...
We commissioned this report ourselves because it reflects our free market, libertarian ideology. Indeed, the Adam Smith Institute does not do commissioned research.
However, there are a couple of tobacco companies that have corporate subscriptions at the Institute. The revenue from this – while welcome – is not terribly significant. It amounted to less than 3 percent of our 2011 income. Moreover, neither of these companies has played any role whatsoever in the production or editing of this report. We take our independence very seriously.
The British Medical Journal asked for a response from me so I sent them this. As they probably won't publish it, I'll post it here:
I'm pleased that Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) are familiar with Adam Smith's "invisible hand" concept despite their obvious contempt for free markets and free societies. As usual, they offer not a shred of evidence that plain packaging will deter people from smoking. Their claim that counterfeiters' lives will not be made easier by making cigarette packs look virtually identical is as credible as their belief that plain packaging will not inconvenience retailers.
ASH say that it is "patently false" to think that "once a measure has been applied to tobacco it will be applied to other products". Have they been living in a cave for the past five years? The British Medical Association is currently demanding that graphic warnings be placed on wine bottles. Where does ASH suppose they got that idea from? The BMA also wants - in their own words - "a complete ban on [alcohol] advertising as has been done very successfully with tobacco." Activists in Australia are already calling for junk food to be sold in plain packaging. Rather than denying these facts, ASH should be proud that they are blazing a trail for busybodies, cranks and authoritarians of all varieties.
Fun and games...