Tobacco Asia

Volume 18, Number 3

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18 tobaccoasia By Nattira Medvedeva Eighteen months after Australia's first-of-its-kind plain packaging law came into effect, it remains to be seen whether forcing companies to remove their branding and logos and replace them with graphic images of smoking-related diseases on a plain background has actually achieved the government's goal of lowering the number of people smoking. On one side of the debate are supporters of the Australian government's law, saying that to- bacco plain packaging has, in fact, helped lower the number of smokers. Supporters of this train of thought are, understandably, government offi- cials and anti-smoking advocates, many of whom quote figures from the Australian Bureau of Sta- tistics (ABS) that show a decline in smokers in Australia since 2001. It would be worthy of note, however, that the "downward trend" seen in ABS' figures covers a period prior to the introduction of the plain packaging law, which came into effect in December 2012. ABS has yet to release data on smoking rates after that. On the other side of the debate are those who disagree with the idea that tobacco plain packaging would really make people smoke less. Both Philip Morris International (PMI) and British American Tobacco (BAT) have released data that show that instead of reducing the number of people smok- ing, plain packaging has actually caused the op- posite effect. British American Tobacco Australia Plain Packaging Revisited Giles Roca, director general of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association Chris Argent, PMI's director of corporate affairs, said: "Industry sales data collated by the independent firm InfoView, confirm that the downward trend within legal tobacco has accel- erated since the introduction of plain packaging. The only market segment in growth is "deep dis- count", which grew by nearly 90% in 2013, and is continuing to grow in 2014. Consumers looking for perceived value are also moving to roll-your- own tobacco products, which saw a 3% increase in 2013, and was responsible for the slight increase in total tobacco sales. Competitor discounting in the lowest price segment and the 12.5% tax increase in December 2013 have exacerbated these trends." Countering claims that lower tobacco clear- ances signal fewer smokers, Argent explained, "Proponents of plain packaging have pointed to comments from the Australian Treasury that to- bacco clearances fell by 3.4% in 2013 relative to 2012, as evidence that plain packaging is reducing smoking. While we don't know the full detail of the Treasury's tobacco clearances from their state- ment, you cannot simply compare 2013 tobacco clearances to 2012 tobacco clearances due to the (BATA) spokesperson Scott McIntyre said that since plain packaging was introduced, industry volumes had actually grown for the first time in over a decade while the decline in the number of people smoking had dropped by over half. PMI's data said that there was a 0.3% / 59 million stick increase in 2013, and KPMG found an increase in total tobacco consumption (including illicit to- bacco) in 2013. "From 2008 to 2012, smoking incidence, or the number of people smoking, was declining at an average rate of 3.3% a year. Since plain pack- aging was introduced, that decline rate slowed to 1.4%," McIntyre said. "Over the five years in the lead-up to the intro- duction of plain packaging, total tobacco industry volumes were declining at an average rate of 4.1%. Subsequently, since plain packs were introduced on December 1, 2012, industry volumes have actually grown for the first time in years up 0.3%. Further, the number of cigarettes smoked on a daily basis de- clined at a rate of 1.9% in the five years leading up to plain packaging, while it declined 1.4% after green packs hit shelves," Mcintyre further explained.

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