In THE midst of a recent article about alcohol minimum unit pricing, Neil McKeganay, from the Centre for Drug Misuse Research, casually dismisses proposals for standardised tobacco packaging as lacking in evidence. Far from being rushed this policy has been years in the making, and the subject of dozens of studies – I wish all policy initiatives were so carefully considered and had such strong public support.
Plain, standardised packaging makes the look of tobacco more truthful and is designed to disrupt tobacco companies’ attempts to hook in new consumers through presenting their product as sophisticated, rugged or slimming. In 2011 the UK Department of Health commissioned a systematic review of 37 studies on the likely impact of standardised packaging, later updated with 17 further studies. This evidence consistently demonstrated that standard packs would reduce the appeal of tobacco products and increase people’s awareness of health warnings.
In Australia where tobacco has been sold in standardised packaging since December 2012, all the early signs are encouraging. Smokers say the cigarettes don’t taste as good, and that they are more likely to think about quitting. Smoking rates in Australia are plummeting. Figures from the Australian department of health show that tobacco consumption in the first quarter of 2014 was at the lowest ever recorded.
McKeganay’s own tobacco-industry funded group claims an interest in researching “harm reduction”. Standardised tobacco packaging is a well-evidenced harm reduction measure.