We paid $3 million for what?

The Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 describes its objectives as follows:

3  Objects of this Act are

(1)  The objects of this Act are:
(a)  to improve public health by:
(i)  discouraging people from taking up smoking, or using tobacco products; and
(ii)  encouraging people to give up smoking, and to stop using tobacco products; and
(iii)  discouraging people who have given up smoking, or who have stopped using tobacco products, from relapsing; and
(iv)  reducing people’s exposure to smoke from tobacco products; and
(b)  to give effect to certain obligations that Australia has as a party to the Convention on Tobacco Control.

(2)  It is the intention of the Parliament to contribute to achieving the objects in subsection (1) by regulating the retail packaging and appearance of tobacco products in order to:
(a)  reduce the appeal of tobacco products to consumers; and
(b)  increase the effectiveness of health warnings on the retail packaging of tobacco products; and
(c)  reduce the ability of the retail packaging of tobacco products to mislead consumers about the harmful effects of smoking or using tobacco products.

So I read that as follows: The objective of the act set on section 3(1) is to reduce the incidence of tobacco consumption, while section 3(2) sets out a strategy for doing so.

That provides some interesting background to this exchange at Senate Estimates:

Senator LEYONHJELM: Put that on notice as well, if you can, to please provide it. Your department’s website says that the key findings of the survey were that the objectives of tobacco plain packaging were achieved. Given that is a departmental website—we are not referring to Professor Wakefield’s here—can you tell me: was there a key finding from the survey that plain packaging improved public health?

Ms Davies: The language on the website reflects the broad findings in the BMJ articles published on 19 March last year. They were referencing the proximal objectives as they are referred to in those articles. I think the department ordinarily now refers to them as the mechanisms, which are found in section 3(2) of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act under the objects of the act.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Yes, that is why I am asking the questions. Was there a key finding that plain packaging improved public health? That is one of the objectives.
Ms Davies: The tracking survey and the BMJ articles that relate to the tracking survey were not designed to measure prevalence and cannot measure prevalence.
Senator LEYONHJELM: So it did not measure whether there was increased giving up of smoking?
Ms Davies: As I said, the design of the tracking survey and the articles in the BMJ that discuss it largely related to the section 3(2) mechanisms—so reducing the appeal of the packet, increasing the effectiveness of graphic health warnings and minimising the pack’s ability to mislead. In the long term, those three mechanisms work to reduce prevalence.
Senator LEYONHJELM: How do you know? The post-implementation review is intended to determine whether the objectives of the legislation are being achieved.
Ms Davies: That is correct, and the post-implementation review looks at evidence that goes to both section 3(1), which is the broader public health objectives that you are speaking of—the longer term ones—and also the mechanisms by which those objectives are intended to be achieved, which are the proximal objectives.
Senator LEYONHJELM: The objects of the act are to improve public health, so if we cannot tell from the survey that the introduction of plain packaging improved public health then we have not established whether the act is doing what it is intended to do.

So we have Health Department officials telling the Parliament that the tracking study was not designed to determine any improvement in public health but rather whether smokers liked or disliked the packaging and/or took greater notice of health warnings and the like. Yet last year in the special issue of Tobacco Control we read:

Plain packaging in Australia has been a casebook example of effective tobacco control—a policy measure driven by evidence, carefully designed and implemented, and now rigorously assessed.

But what exactly is being assessed? Didn’t we already know that smokers disliked the olive green packs? That the colouring and design was specifically chosen to be unattractive? Yes, we did.

So why then did the federal government give $3 million to the Victorian Cancer Council to re-establish what it already knew? Why was that research project not put out to tender? Why was a research project to track smoking prevalence – the primary objective of the Plain Packaging Act – not commissioned?

Then there is this:

Senator LEYONHJELM: Was Professor Wakefield a prior advocate of plain packaging?
Dr Studdert: Professor Wakefield has been involved in a wide range of tobacco related research over many years. I do not think it would be fair to say that she is an advocate. I think she is a researcher who has done a broad range of research in a range of areas related to tobacco control.
Senator LEYONHJELM: I am aware she has done a lot of research in this area, but my question is: has she been a prior advocate of plain packaging?
Dr Studdert: As I said, I do not think we would categorise her as an advocate. She has been a researcher for many years in a range of fields related to tobacco control.
Senator LEYONHJELM: So you are saying no, she is not an advocate, yes, she is, or you do not know?
Dr Studdert: Those are not the terms of our engagement with her over many years in relation to tobacco research.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Yes, I know, but you have done a lot of work with her and she has done a lot of work with you. Are you saying you do not know what her views are?
Mr Bowles: I think that what was said is that she has worked in the field of tobacco control for a long period of time.
Senator LEYONHJELM: I heard that, Mr Bowles. I am still interested in the answer: do you believe she has been an advocate of plain packaging?
Dr Studdert: I think she has been an advocate for supporting the evidence base for good policy measures. Yes, I think many—
Senator LEYONHJELM: Would she consider good policy to be plain packaging?
Dr Studdert: I would say yes, because she has done a lot of research in this area and knows the evidence base that supports that policy.
Mr Bowles: That said, it is probably a question best asked of her.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Yes. It is inconceivable given the longstanding relationship between the department and Professor Wakefield that you do not know what her views are.
Mr Bowles: No-one said the views were not known. She is a long-term researcher in tobacco control, so there will be elements of plain packaging, as there will be other elements of tobacco control. I just make the point that we cannot really talk on her behalf about some of her beliefs and all those sorts of issues.

Simply astonishing – the Health Department cannot repeat in the Parliament what is public knowledge:

Competing interests The authors wish to advise that MS was a technical writer for and [Melanie Wakefield] a member of the Tobacco Working Group of the Australian National Preventive Health Task Force and [Melanie Wakefield] was a member of the Expert Advisory Committee on Plain Packaging that advised the Australian Department of Health on research pertaining to the plain packaging legislation. [Melanie Wakefield] holds competitive grant funding from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, US National Institutes of Health, Australian National Preventive Health Agency and BUPA Health Foundation.

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26 Responses to We paid $3 million for what?

  1. Squirrel

    Makes Blue Poles look like a bargain.

  2. duncanm

    Say what you want about Mr L’alphabet, but at least he’s sticking it to them with some regularity.

    Sack.Them.All etc etc.

  3. Stackja

    By my observations, TPP does not work, just slows down shopping.

  4. I am the Walras, Equilibrate, and Price-Take

    Keep belting them over the head Sinclair.

  5. Tel

    Talk about not giving a straight answer to a very simple question.

    Isn’t there some sort of contempt of Parliament thingy? I doubt anyone would get away with that crap in a court of law.

  6. BrettW

    Regarding these threads I feel like Steve Price on the Project when Pell is discussed.

    Seems like we get one of these threads about once per week now. Personally I think the Government should do a TV advertisement featuring Scott McIntyre of BAT Australia from the recent documentary The Seduction of Smoking. The bit where he says he does not smoke because he knows it will harm his health.

  7. Baldrick

    The Victorian Cancer Council is a company with political views and influences which supports advocacy, activism and lobbying.

  8. Simon/other

    Wow, it’s a good thing that Ice and Heroin are sold in plain packaging or the whole country would be addicted. Those drug dealers, always doing us good turn.

  9. .

    BrettW
    #1952582, posted on February 21, 2016 at 5:50 pm
    Regarding these threads I feel like Steve Price on the Project when Pell is discussed.

    Seems like we get one of these threads about once per week now. Personally I think the Government should do a TV advertisement featuring Scott McIntyre of BAT Australia from the recent documentary The Seduction of Smoking. The bit where he says he does not smoke because he knows it will harm his health.

    You’re on the wrong blog old mate.

  10. BrettW

    Dot,
    On this subject I may be. However I don’t consider myself old !
    BrettW

  11. Dozer

    Obviously wasting money & fucking up is a prerequisite job description. Not knowing anything is further down the list, just like Russians, they are so tight lipped they have to take the tonsils out the back way.

  12. Des Deskperson

    “Why was that research project not put out to tender? ”

    The Commonwealth Procurement Rules – s. 10 3 – allow an agency to waive a tender process “when the goods and services can be supplied only by a particular business and there is no reasonable alternative or substitute….. due to an absence of competition for technical reasons”.

    Even a mediocre bureaucrat could pull together an argument to ‘prove’ that the Victorian Cancer Council was the only entity that could do the job.

  13. Entropy

    Irnically, imagine if the government decided that plain packaging was a despicable confiscation of property rights with no clear public health benefit. And thus these restrictions on packaging would be repealed.

    What would happen next?

    I reckon that the smoking rate would rise. Now, not because people are attracted to bright red packages, or cool blue ones, or like a stylised camel image. Smoking rates would rise as nanny is taken down. Spirits would be lifted, like a heavy burden removed. So smokers will smoke a little more for a while, others may take it up. Animal spirits would be busy.

    And then the nazis would claim it as proof that plain packaging must have been working. The box can no longer be closed.

  14. Entropy

    The Commonwealth Procurement Rules – s. 10 3 – allow an agency to waive a tender process “when the goods and services can be supplied only by a particular business and there is no reasonable alternative or substitute….. due to an absence of competition for technical reasons”.

    Truck drives straight through. Sometimes with reason.

  15. Some History

    Foremost, kudos to DL for the probing questioning. It must be a growing shock for the tosser brigade of Tobacco Control, that includes government bureaucracy. Normally there is no questioning whatsoever of the prohibitionist racket. On the rare occasion that a scrutinizing question might be asked of the moralizing miscreants, it’s usually contemptuously brushed off with the standard waffle template seen above. The questioning usually ceases very quickly. But DL is doing something quite “unusual”: He’s asking excellent questions and he’s pressing for answers. He’s not falling for the initial “deflections”. He properly keeps at it either getting a coherent answer, or showing up those who should know the answer as not knowing the answer, or showing up those making self-promoting claims as “science-based” as lying.

    (1) The objects of this Act are:
    (a) to improve public health by:
    (i) discouraging people from taking up smoking, or using tobacco products; and
    (ii) encouraging people to give up smoking, and to stop using tobacco products; and
    (iii) discouraging people who have given up smoking, or who have stopped using tobacco products, from relapsing;

    That’s a prohibitionist stance. It’s not new; it goes back centuries. The prohibitionists couldn’t get a look in during the 1970s. Society generally didn’t care too much for prohibitionists and their inflammatory rhetoric. The prohibitionists then went the route in the 1980s of manufacturing secondhand smoke “danger” to keep the antismoking crusade alive. The prohibitionists were very careful not to use prohibitionist rhetoric. “We’re not trying to stop people from smoking”, they would screech. “Any restrictive laws we agitate for are only to protect nonsmokers from the ‘dangers’ of secondhand smoke”. Well, somewhere between the 1970s and the early-2000s the prohibitionists managed to get the government signed up to prohibition. They’re now very open about the prohibition intent. We’re so dumbed-down through a few decades of State-sponsored propaganda that most can’t even tell that they’ve been manipulated to an extreme position – prohibition – that only a few decades ago was viewed as repugnant.

    (b) to give effect to certain obligations that Australia has as a party to the Convention on Tobacco Control.

    The WHO “Framework Convention on Tobacco Control” is a prohibition treaty – towards a “tobacco free” world. Who decided for Australia to adopt prohibition? It seems that Australia, like many other countries, signed up to the FCTC in the early-2000s (2004? 2005?). Not clear is which government minister signed up Australia to the FCTC? Does anyone know?

  16. Some History

    Melanie Wakefield is a member of Public Health generally and Tobacco Control specifically. She is, therefore, a tobacco-use prohibitionist. The Cancer Council is a tobacco-use prohibitionist organization.
    http://www.assa.edu.au/fellowship/fellow/100023

    Here’s Mel and her Tobacco Control buddy, the self-proclaimed “superhero”, Mike Daube – both prohibitionists – singing the praises of plain packaging earlier last year. An interview of prohibitionists by a prohibitionist on a prohibitionist TV channel – it’s all warped, one-way traffic:

  17. Some History

    Here’s a seminar for “ASPIRE2025” [Research for a Tobacco-Free Aotearoa] in New Zealand in July, 2012. ASPIRE2025 is a prohibitionist organization. One of it’s “research” seminars was on plain packaging. The key address for this seminar was a video recorded presentation by Melanie Wakefield who was already singing the praises of plain packaging – short of evidence – back in 2012, not only in Australia but abroad. And the ASPIRE2025 prohibitionists spoke highly of [the prohibitionist] Melanie Wakefield:

    Professor Melanie Wakefield is Director of Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer (CBRC). She is also a Principal Research Fellow of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, with honorary professorial appointments at three Australian universities.
    Melanie has a PhD in public health as well as degrees in psychology. While Melanie’s work covers many health behaviours, including cancer screening and obesity prevention, she is perhaps best known for her outstanding work in tobacco control. Melanie has published more than 200 peer-reviewed journal papers, including studies on tobacco packaging, pricing, mass media campaigns, health warnings and tobacco taxation.
    She is a member of Australian government advisory committees on preventive health, an Expert Advisor to World Health Organisation on tobacco control issues, and a past voting member of the FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee. Melanie was recently awarded the internationally prestigious American Cancer Society Luther L. Terry Award 2012 for Outstanding Research Contribution in Tobacco Control.
    Melanie has made a major contribution to our knowledge of how plain packaging will work. She is a member of the Australian Government’s Expert Advisory Group on plain packaging and played a major role in designing and overseeing research undertaken by the Department of Health and Aging. New Zealand has much to learn from Australia’s leadership on plain packaging and we are thrilled Melanie is able to share her expertise with us.

    http://aspire2025.org.nz/2012/07/24/seminar-plain-packaging/

    So we have the extraordinarily perverse situation where the major “researcher” – a prohibitionist….. an activist – pushing plain packaging was then given $3million of taxpayer funding [through the prohibitionist organization, Cancer Council] by government committed to prohibition to “evaluate” the effectiveness of plain packaging. It’s a sickly, incestuous framework.

  18. Some History

    More heavy-handed prohibitionist stupidity from Daube’s stomping ground, Western Australia.

    Perth pub owner pledges to fight health order to remove vintage tobacco signs
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/australia/77052524/perth-pub-owner-pledges-to-fight-health-order-to-remove-vintage-tobacco-signs

    UPDATE:

    Health Minister Kim Hames has intervened in the J.B. O’Reilly’s tobacco sign saga – telling the Health Department to stop its action against the Leederville pub.
    …Mr Hames said that if Mr North had taken down any signs he could put them back up, saying the department demand was overkill.
    Mr Hames said he would amend the legislation.

    https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/wa/a/30860076/j-b-o-reilly-s-joke-is-over-as-minister-tells-health-department-to-drop-action/

  19. BorisG

    Mr Hames said that if Mr North had taken down any signs he could put them back up, saying the department demand was overkill.
    Mr Hames said he would amend the legislation.

    A rare case of sanity by a politician. One more reason to keep Colin Barnett in power.

  20. Some History

    But what exactly is being assessed? Didn’t we already know that smokers disliked the olive green packs? That the colouring and design was specifically chosen to be unattractive?

    Good question. What’s assessed is blurred but it’s very clear what the prohibitionists…. the activists…. , including Wakefield, made of the dodgy [agenda-driven] “research” – that plain packaging is a resounding success…. another “wonderful, awe-inspiring” accomplishment by the prohibitionists.

    Here are some of the headlines at the time re: Wakefield’s “evaluation”, most of them by organizations in the prohibitionist network:

    Plain packaging on cigarettes is working – research
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=11420321

    Australia’s plain packaging is working: first comprehensive evaluation of world-first tobacco laws released
    http://www.cancervic.org.au/about/media-releases/2015-media-releases/march-2015/australias-plain-packaging-is-working.html

  21. Some History

    Sinc, please keep us informed of DL’s questioning of the Tobacco Control [prohibition] unintelligentsia.

  22. Some History

    We paid $3 million for what?

    It would seem that we paid $3 million to keep a bunch of incompetent, pontificating ponces in very comfortable, ill-gotten employment.

  23. JohnA

    Tel #1952552, posted on February 21, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    Talk about not giving a straight answer to a very simple question.

    From early Yes, Minister (the first, IIRC)

    [Hacker:] Opposition is all about asking difficult questions.
    [Appleby:] Indeed, Minister, and Government is all about not answering them.

  24. JohnA

    Some History #1952965, posted on February 21, 2016 at 11:53 pm

    The WHO “Framework Convention on Tobacco Control” is a prohibition treaty – towards a “tobacco free” world. Who decided for Australia to adopt prohibition? It seems that Australia, like many other countries, signed up to the FCTC in the early-2000s (2004? 2005?). Not clear is which government minister signed up Australia to the FCTC? Does anyone know?

    In the end it doesn’t matter.

    When it comes to the UN, Australia is an all-party kowtowing, forfeit-our-sovereignty wimp. We are enthusiastic first-signers to so many treaties and Conventions. Sycophantic and sickening.

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