Evidence vital to tobacco debate

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IN HER letter (20 April) Sheila Duffy claims that research into smokers’ behaviour has confirmed the view from attitudinal studies that packaging tobacco products in standardised form will result in an overall reduction in the level of smoking in society. It would have been helpful if Duffy had provided a full citation for the research she was referring to.

In undertaking his inquiry into tobacco plain packaging Sir Cyril Chantler acknowledged the lack of research that allowed him to estimate the likely size of the impact of plain packaging in reducing smoking prevalence. Similarly, by late 2013, researchers at the University of Stirling reviewed 54 plain packaging studies and identified only a single study that reported data on the impact of plain packaging on smokers’ behaviour. In that study respondents smoked 0.6 of a cigarette less midweek and 1.0 cigarette less at weekends, when their cigarettes were packaged in plain form. Hardly a ringing endorsement of what has become the latest policy from tobacco control advocates.

Following the waste of millions of pounds of public money stockpiling the Tamiflu vaccine, which research has shown is less effective than Paracetamol, we need to recognise that enthusiastic support for a ­policy is no substitute for good evidence.

Neil McKeganey, director, Centre for Drug Misuse Research, Glasgow