Does Plain Packaging Reduce Smoking?

May 5, 2014

Australia's experience with plain packaging rules should serve as a lesson to other countries looking to implement similar cigarette restrictions, writes Julian Morris, vice president of research at the Reason Foundation.

Antismoking groups have long advocated for "plain packaging" rules -- restrictions that require cigarettes to be sold in plain packages without brand logos or colors. Australia passed such a law in 2011, adding to its existing regulations on cigarettes. The country had banned advertising and marketing of tobacco prior to the plain packaging rule, and in 2006, Australia required cigarette packs to display explicit health warnings.

The idea behind the packaging laws is that, without brands and logos, consumers will find them less appealing. But do these laws actually do anything to reduce smoking? Removing brand indicators, Morris says, may make the packs less visually appealing, but there is no indication that smoking itself becomes less appealing.

  • According to one online survey of smokers, which assessed smoking habits both prior to and after the plain packaging rule, the Australian law had little effect. Another survey found that the proportion of Australian smokers remained the same in July 2013 as it had in 2012, when the packaging law came into effect.
  • Another study looked at discarded cigarette packs, finding that consumption remained steady but that the use of black market cigarettes had risen significantly. Part of that increase is due to a 25 percent increase in the tobacco tax in 2010. However, the study found that the majority of the increase actually took place after the plain packaging rules came into effect.
  • With the rise of these illicit cigarettes -- which contain no health warnings -- youth most likely have greater access to cigarettes at lower prices.

According to a report from the Institute of Economic Affairs on this issue, plain packaging supporters have begun advocating for similar packaging rules for food products and alcohol.

Source: Julian Morris, "Smoking, Plain Packaging and Public Health," Adam Smith Institute (U.K.) and Reason Foundation, March 2014; Christopher Snowdon, "Plain Packaging -- Questions That Need Answering," Institute of Economic Affairs (U.K.), April 2014.

 

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