In this publication on 1 February Trina Snow reported on an Australian study by Davidson and De Silva showing “no empirical evidence” that plain packaging has reduced smoking. Her article, Key decisions looming on tobacco sales, focused largely on this research and concluded that pending decisions to be made here will have “a significant impact on how tobacco is displayed and sold in New Zealand supermarkets”. Her underlying implication was fairly clear; if not overtly enunciated. If plain packaging isn’t effective in reducing smoking rates, any new regulations in terms of sales and display will amount to a potentially costly waste of time for New Zealand supermarkets.
What she failed to report, and possibly didn’t realise, is that this particular study was funded by tobacco company Phillip Morris and is therefore unreliable. She would have received information about this study in the same way the rest of the media did – via a Philip Morris sponsored media release referring to it as “a new piece of independent research”. It was anything but.
The Sydney Morning Herald was not fooled. On 27 November 2014 it unambiguously referred to this research as “Big Tobacco bullying” and called it “part of a coordinated assault just ahead of the Department of Health’s review [of the effects of plain packaging]”.
The same Herald article went on to say it was no wonder tobacco companies were getting nervous.
“The number of cigarettes sold at supermarkets fell 2.9 percent last financial year, suggesting that plain packaging and higher taxes are working to reduce smoking rates.”
Recent and truly independent research by Wakefield et al shows plain packaging lowers the appeal of smoking. In the 22 months after plain packaging was introduced in Australia, tobacco spending fell by 7.3 percent. At the same time Quitline calls increased by 78 percent. So yes, new plain packaging laws in New Zealand will certainly reduce sales and will probably result is some extra hassle for supermarkets. I am not competent to comment on the impact this will have for owners and staff but what I can say is they can be confident any changes will not be in vain.
Fewer people smoking means fewer young people becoming addicted to this terrible scourge. That’s your and my children, by the way.
Dr Prudence Stone, Executive Director
Smokefree Coalition of New Zealand