Cigarettes and plain packaging – new dataset says it works

It seems our carrying in good faith last week the data-selective assertions of Canadian journalist and development officer of ‘Students for Liberty,’ Yael Ossowski, that plain cigarette packaging does not work as a harm reduction tool, is way short of the full story. So short as to be untrue, says Yussuf Saloojee, Executive Director of SA’s National Council Against Smoking in his response below. He claims Ossowski is just plain wrong – and provides a wider data-set, making a strong case for plain packaging. Saloojee picks out a more convincing Australian data-set than the one Ossowski used. It’s one of those fields where trillions of dollars are at stake and smoke and mirrors are the order of the day. As I found out when once I tried to sift through the mountains of opposing data submitted by the protagonists in the e-cigarettes debate where the latest arena of battle is harm-reduction. Some international scientific heavyweights stack up on the side of e-cigarettes, like SA-born pioneering long distance swimmer and executive director of the Vitality Institute, Dr Derek Yach. Harm-reduction and preventative wellness medicine and exercise lie at the core of Discovery Health’s business model, hence the choice of former WHO executive Yach to head up their Institute. Yach was behind much of the ANC’s globally-admired, progressive smoking policies and evolving legislation. But he parts company with Saloojee on e-cigarettes and harm reduction, saying it’s the smoke that kills, not the nicotine (which e-cigs deliver, without the more harmful smoke). Here are the results of Saloojee’s foray into the scientific wizardry of Oz where this dataset seems to blow away some of the red outback dust that Ossowski stirred up. – Chris Bateman

By Yussuf Saloojee*

In Australia, the attractive colours and logos that increase the appeal of the cigarette pack, especially to children, have been replaced by honest, truthful information on the dangers of smoking. Cigarettes are now sold in plain packaging – that is, in dark brown packets with pictures of sick smokers on it.

And plain packaging works. Smoking rates have dropped to record lows since its introduction in late 2012.

File Photo: Philip Morris International Inc. Marlboro cigarette packets are arranged for a photograph in Melbourne, Australia, on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011. Australia is the first country to ban logos on cigarette packaging, and will require all cigarettes sold there to be in plain packaging from Dec. 1, 2012. Photographer: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg

The latest data from the Australian Secondary Student’s Alcohol and Drug survey show that between 2011 and 2014 the number of 12 to 17 year-old students who have never smoked increased from 77.4% to 80.5%. Adult smoking rates have also fallen. Among Australians aged 14 or older the number of people who smoke daily fell from 15.1% to 12.8% between 2010-13.

There are now 200,000 fewer smokers in this age group.

The tobacco industry knows that plain packaging lowers profits, so the industry and its cronies have resorted to falsely claiming that plain packaging is ineffective.

Further, the major cigarette companies are rapidly expanding into the e-cigarette business and would obviously benefit from growth in this market. So, to kill two birds with one stone, the industry proposes that plain packaging laws should be dropped and that e-cigarettes (or ‘vaping’) be promoted to reduce smoking. A win-win for the industry, as a measure that reduces sales would be replaced with one that increases profits.

The problem with this suggestion is that the majority of e-cigarette users still continue to smoke regular cigarettes and there is no health benefit if people both vapor and smoke. While the industry would profit from addiction by selling e-cigarettes alongside regular cigarettes, there would be no public health gain.

The decision to implement plain packaging in Australia was based upon extensive scientific evidence and the law has been upheld by the courts. Numerous other countries, including Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Hungary, New Zealand, Norway, Chile and Singapore, are persuaded by this evidence and have now adopted or are considering adopting similar measures.

South Africa would be well advised to also do so, as plain packaging will help reduce the over 40,000 deaths caused by cigarettes each year.

  • Yussuf Saloojee, Exco Director of the SA National Council Against Smoking
For a deeper understanding of the world of money and greater financial control, upgrade to BizNews Premium.