Tobacco industry questions plain packaging review

The Federal Department of Health’s long anticipated Post-Implementation Review (PIR) into plain tobacco packaging has been widely dismissed by tobacco manufacturers as lacking in conclusive evidence.

Released on Friday, February 26, the Federal Department of Health’s PIR was slated to report on the effectiveness of the plain packaging laws that were implemented in 2012 in a bid to reduce rates of smoking. However, tobacco manufacturers have said that the legislative impact on tobacco retailers, along with hard data on smoking rates, has far outweighed the evidence that plain packaging has worked.

A survey of retailers by Roy Morgan Research in late 2013 found that the majority of small retailers felt plain packaging had placed an additional burden on their business, including extra costs associated with increased transaction times, customer frustration, inventory management delays, heavier staff workloads and training requirements. A spokesman for Philip Morris, Simon Dowding, said that three years since the implementation of plain packaging, this is certainly still the case.

“Australia’s plain packaging laws are in the spotlight again, this time courtesy of a Government review of the effectiveness of the laws to reduce smoking rates,” he said. “Disappointingly, the review fails to consider the impact on the thousands of retailers who raised serious concerns about the impact of plain packaging on their business before the laws were implemented in 2012, so when the Department of Health trumpets the success of the policy, is the impact on retailers part of the equation? Unfortunately not.

“These concerns were not in relation to a potential reduction in tobacco sales, but rather the implementation costs and needless complexity added to what should be a simple transaction. A retail environment where tobacco products cannot be displayed and all products look virtually identical just means more red tape and increased costs for retailers. Three years after the introduction of plain packaging, our retailers tell us they are still bearing the disproportionate burden of these increased costs.”

British American Tobacco Australasia (BATA) responded to the Department of Health’s PIR, stating that the report “did not provide any conclusive evidence it has worked”.

“As outlined in the PIR, packaging changes made in 2012 were ‘designed to reduce smoking levels’, yet evidence from key stakeholders, including the Government, show that this has not been achieved by plain packaging,” BATA spokesman Scott McIntyre said. “The majority of the report focuses on the tobacco control research that examines sentiment and perception rather than hard data such as sales and incidence.

“When the PIR does refer to hard data, it doesn’t delineate between the impact of tobacco excise hikes and plain packaging. The report even acknowledges this. These decreases cannot be entirely attributed to plain packaging given the range of tobacco control measures in place in Australia.”

Imperial Tobacco Australia said that the long-delayed PIR is a “plainly contrived outcome”, with Imperial’s Head of Corporate and Legal Affairs Andrew Gregson saying the lengthy delay in the release of the review, which was originally commissioned in early 2015, was cause in itself for suspicion.

“We know that plain packaging has simply not impacted long-term smoking rate trends,” he said. “There has been no acceleration in decline brought about by the policy. Simply put, the very same result in terms of smoking rates would have been achieved by doing nothing.

“All that plain packaging has achieved is removing the opportunity for legal product manufacturers to differentiate their products. It has opened Australia up to challenge via the World Trade Organisation and further eroded the freedoms of Australian consumers. We continue to oppose plain packaging in Australia and globally.”

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