From the Hansard:
Senator LEYONHJELM: I think ‘caution’ is the appropriate word. It is a short period of time, I quite agree, except that some amazing conclusions are being drawn from what seems to be a very flimsy statistical base. Speaking of short terms and flimsy statistics, today I received a reply to a question on notice from Treasury which advised that in period of the 12 months ended November 2013 and the 12 months ended 30 November 2012 there was a 0.8 per cent decline in tobacco clearances, excluding tobacco refund scheme refunds. This is 0.8 per cent in the period of 12 months immediately before plain packaging and 12 months immediately post plain packaging. Your website refers to this as 3.4 per cent. There is an extra month included in your calculation of 2012 and an extra month in your calculation of 2013, the difference being that plain packaging started in that extra month in 2012 and, in 2013, there was an excise increase. So, comparing like with like, and Treasury has confirmed this, the accurate figure of pre and post tobacco clearances was a reduction of 0.8 per cent. Have you looked at that? Are you aware of that calculation? I understand Treasury consulted you in preparing that answer for us.
Ms Davies: Yes. The information on our website, which is quite old now, was in direct response to an article that appeared in The Australian some time ago which quoted a particular figure for the 2012 calendar year. We, at the time, engaged with Treasury and they provided the 3.4 per cent figure as the calendar year response. So that information is directly referable and responsive to an article that was in The Australian some time ago. But the information can vary, depending on what point in time you choose. For example, October was the date when plain packaging was commenced, and it only became fully effective in December 2012.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Do you intend to modify your website to say that, comparing like with like, the reduction was 0.8 per cent? It gives the impression that it had an immediate, substantial impact on clearance rates.
Ms Davies: We have no intention of suggesting that clearance rates are a direct measure of tobacco plain packaging effects. In fact, they are not designed to measure the effects of plain packaging or, indeed, any particular tobacco control measure. They are one indication amongst many of whether plain packaging is working, including the ABS household expenditure data, which has, between September 2012 and September 2013, dropped by a total of 20 per cent. The prevalence data suggests that prevalence has had the most substantial drop in 20 years since plain packaging, together with the behavioural studies that you mentioned earlier in the BMJ. We look at the totality of the evidence, but certainly with the clearance data we would say that since 2012 there has been an 11 per cent drop in total. It is consistent with plain packaging working, but we do not hold out the clearance data as a measure of plain packaging working or, indeed, any other tobacco control measure. It is not designed to measure tobacco control.
Two very interesting things there:
- We have no intention of suggesting that clearance rates are a direct measure of tobacco plain packaging effects.
- … the ABS household expenditure data, which has, between September 2012 and September 2013, dropped by a total of 20 per cent.
No – I don’t think so. This is what the Health Department say at their (quite old) website:
Treasury has advised that tobacco clearances (including excise and customs duty) fell by 3.4% in 2013 relative to 2012 and fell a further 7.9% in 2014. Tobacco clearances have fallen a total of 11.0% since 2012 when tobacco plain packaging was introduced.
So I simply do not believe “We have no intention of suggesting that clearance rates are a direct measure of tobacco plain packaging effects.” They had every such intention. The second point is even easier to deal with – according to the ABS Household Expenditure data on Cigarettes and Tobacco (seasonally adjusted) the September 2012 value was 4266 and the September 2013 value was 4193. Those figures are in $ millions. Now I calculate about a 2% difference, not 20%. So the Health Department is out in its calculation by a factor of 10.