ONE of Scotland’s leading experts in tackling addiction has warned that there is insufficient evidence for the UK and Scottish governments to press ahead with the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco.
Dr Neil McKeganey, of the Drugs Misuse Research Centre in Glasgow, has drawn up one of the few independent studies into the plain packaging debate. He warned that the “dangers” of a poorly researched policy could lead to “unintended consequences” including people smoking more counterfeit cigarettes. The policy could also cost taxpayers, distract from a more effective policy on controlling tobacco or simply have no effect on smoking.
His intervention has come in the week that a UK government-commissioned report by Sir Cyril Chantler recommended that it proceed with standardised packaging.
The Scottish Government had already decided to push ahead with the measure, despite a warning from tobacco giant Philip Morris that it might sue for £500 million over image rights.
But in his paper, Dr McKeganey noted: “The argument for requiring tobacco products to be sold in plain or standardised form may well be a case where the collective support for a policy has developed well beyond the available evidence.”
He criticised research for failing to look at human behaviour “identifying the degree to which and the process through which changes in pack design can influence smokers’ behaviour”.
He warned that there was a “disconnect” between long-term public policy “which would last for decades” and research which has “rarely looked at the impact of plain packaging on individuals for longer than a matter of hours, days, weeks or months”. He concluded: “Instead of pushing for the wider implementation of the plain packaging policy, the need is for much better evidence that the policy can actually change smokers’ behaviour.”
His paper has been welcomed by the tobacco industry. A spokesman for Philip Morris said: “Sir Cyril Chantler has chosen to disregard the evidence on plain packaging from Australia – the only country in the world to have implemented it.
“Plain packaging has failed to cut smoking rates, has not deterred youth smokers and has been accompanied by a dramatic growth of the black market.”
Dr McKeganey’s paper has been dismissed by anti-smoking campaigners.
Sheila Duffy from Ash Scotland said: “Tobacco packaging is like perfume packaging – it sells a dream not the reality. That dream is fuelled by advertising, including packaging design.”