Plain tobacco case distorted

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IN A week when Sir Cyril Chantler’s comprehensive and authoritative review came out in favour of introducing plain, standardised packaging for tobacco, Dr Neil McKeganey’s paper (News, 6 April), taking the opposite view, does little to dent its status or its conclusions.

The main complaint against Chantler’s report has come from tobacco companies complaining that he “ignored the evidence”. Dr McKeganey has taken the line from the Philip Morris tobacco company that tobacco sales rose in Australia following the introduction of plain packs.

What their figures actually showed was a very small increase in the supply of tobacco to retailers, which is very different. This figure is easily manipulated by the tobacco companies, but in this case would also include a one-off boost as retailers returned unsold branded tobacco stock that did not comply with the new law in early 2013 – so more tobacco needed to be delivered to retailers in the New Year to compensate.

Dr McKeganey complains that the majority of studies that show plain packs work focus on smokers’ attitudes and perceptions rather than on impacts on behaviours. Yes, but some studies do, and the point is that the studies of actual smoking behaviour present the same picture of plain packs as an effective measure as the attitude studies do.

Sheila Duffy, chief executive, Ash Scotland