Yesterday the Guardian Australian had this piece:
One of the opinion pieces was written by Professor Sinclair Davidson, an economist at RMIT and a senior fellow at the IPA, which has reportedly received funds from the tobacco industry. British American Tobacco Australia told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2012 it was a member of the IPA. [That used to be called guilt by association. Sinc]
Davidson wrote that plain packaging policy introduced by the previous Labor government was “state-sponsored persecution of that minority who consume tobacco”.
Davidson was also quoted in the newspaper as saying: “I have no doubt that the consumption of cigarettes has risen since plain packaging was introduced; we just can’t be sure whether it is by existing smokers or new smokers.”
But according to the department of health, recent figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that total consumption of tobacco and cigarettes in the March quarter 2014 is the lowest ever recorded.
It has dropped from $3.508bn in December 2012 to 3.405 billion in March 2014.
Actually Davidson did not write the “plain packaging policy introduced by the previous Labor government was “state-sponsored persecution of that minority who consume tobacco”. Rather Davidson wrote:
All this is over and above the illegitimacy of state-sponsored persecution of that minority who consume tobacco.
The anti-tobacco lobby would like us to believe that they have pursued a campaign against an industry and a product. They expressly use terms such as “stigmatisation” and “denormalisation”. But, of course, you can’t stigmatise or denormalise industries or products you can only stigmatise or denormalise people.
I have written about this before in a different context:
Then there are framing issues. Both the Government and the Opposition say they want to break the people-smugglers business model. That sounds all very sensible, the argument being that people shouldn’t risk life and limb in search of a better life. Yet, in practice, what does that mean? As the current GetUp! ad quotes Chris Bowen saying, ‘The Pacific solution did not break the people smugglers’ business model; it broke the will and spirit of asylum seekers’.
Breaking the people smuggler’s business model means breaking the people; that is policy design, not some unintended consequence.
I’m not to the first person to think about the stigmatisation of smokers either.
To date, the debate about smoking and stigma has been largely conducted by and within the public health research community. While there are dissenting voices, it is generally agreed that smoking and smokers are stigmatised and that tobacco control policies are likely to have contributed to this process, but the public health gains outweigh these social costs.
That is a very surprising conclusion given the history of social policies that seek to stigmatise and denormalise people. There was a time when the Guardian wouldn’t have any truck with that sort of thing.
The Guardian next points to the ABS data showing that household expenditure on tobacco declined in the March 2014 quarter. Sigh. This is a classic Type III error – the correct answer to a different question. I am quoted this morning in the Australian:
“We are not interested so much in how much households spend on tobacco and tobacco products, but on how much tobacco is actually being consumed,” Professor Davidson said yesterday.
Adam Creighton actually spoke the ABS yesterday – emphasis added.
Most important, the ABS said: “The number of cigarettes per packet is not picked up in the aggregate sales data and the ABS does not measure or estimate the number of cigarettes consumed.”
Makes you wonder if the journalist at the Guardian bothered to contact the ABS?
What I find most astonishing about all this is the policy denial. The notion that a government policy that targets smokers and smoking is simply beyond question – that no ex post analysis is necessary. That the policy need not pass any cost-benefit analysis.