Plain Packaging - Questions that need answering

Research into the overall impact of plain packaging

Summary

●‘ Plain’ or ‘standardised’ packaging bans the use of company logos, colours and trademarks on a product’s packaging and allows governments to design the outward appearance of goods.

On tobacco products in Australia, this has meant the vast majority of tobacco packaging is taken up by large graphic images of tumours, gangrene and other diseases.

● The UK’s Department of Health (DoH) launched a public consultation into plain packaging for tobacco products in 2012. After 64% of respondents opposed the policy, the proposed implementation was put on hold. The Government cited wishes to monitor the impact of the policy in Australia as key in this decision.

● Following severe criticism from the Labour party, the Department of Health commissioned Sir Cyril Chantler to conduct a limited review of plain packaging in November 2013, focusing solely on the potential effect of plain packaging on smoking prevalence. Newspaper sources suggested the decision to commission the report was made with political considerations in mind.

● With no new evidence in the intervening period, even from Australia, the Chantler report used the very same evidence that the government found unpersuasive in 2013 to argue for plain packaging. Most of these studies ask smokers and young people whether they find ‘plain’ packs less attractive than conventional packs. This tells us little about whether anyone starts smoking as a result of seeing a cigarette pack of any particular design. A significant amount of evidence from Australia now suggests unintended consequences of plain packaging, however. Sales of cigarettes rose by 0.3 per cent in 2013. A study by the global accounting firm KPMG reported a 154 per cent rise in the sale of illicit, branded cigarettes. Official Australian government figures also show that the number of seizures of illicit tobacco rose by 60 per cent between 2011/12 and 2012/13.

● There is significant opposition to plain packaging on the international stage due to its undermining of intellectual property. Several countries have filed complaints with the World Trade Organisation against Australia, with a further 35 countries prepared to join the dispute as third parties. These legal chal