Tuesday, 25 November 2014

I was right. Plain packaging doesn't reduce tobacco consumption.


In March 2011 I wrote this:

My main concerns in all this – leaving aside the issue of personal rights – is that, if the aims are twofold: first to increase rates of smoking cessation and second to reduce rates of smoking adoption, then we are barking up the wrong tree. By way of illustration, between 2003 and 2005 all forms of tobacco advertising in the UK were banned. If the arguments for a ban were correct – less tobacco use and fewer tobacco users – we would have expected the rate of tobacco consumption to accelerate. However, the ban (like the smoking ban in public spaces) had no discernible impact on the long-standing decline in use.

In simple terms introducing plain packaging for cigarettes simply won't work (if the aim is to reduce tobacco consumption or smoking adoption). And it seems I was right:

Ronald Coase famously argued that if you tortured the data long enough they would confess. In this paper we have tortured the data, but there has been no confession. At best, we can determine the plain packaging policy introduced in December 2012 has not reduced household expenditure of tobacco once we control for price effects, or the long-term decline of tobacco expenditure, or even the latent attributes of the data.

To the contrary, we are able to find a suggestion that household expenditure of tobacco has, ceteris paribus, increased. In our forecasting exercise the actual data come close to breaking through the 80 per cent confidence interval. While we do not want to over-emphasise these results, we do conclude that any evidence to suggest that the plain packaging policy has reduced household expenditure on tobacco is simply lacking.

Now I'm sure the tobacco control folk will redouble their efforts - despite being completely wrong. But I hope one or two of them consider whether some different strategies might be more effective in reducing the consumption of tobacco and the adoption of smoking.


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