Tobacco Control has a paper by Sally Dunlop, Donna Perez, Anita Dessaix and David Currow that has some damning results and implications for the plain packaging policy. You get a very different impression reading just the abstract than you do from reading the paper.
The authors report on a series of telephone interviews over the period 2010 – 2013 aimed at 12 – 24 year olds. Look at the summary statistics in their table 1.
Let me pull out some important numbers.
Between 2012 (plain packaging was introduced in December 2012) and 2013 (the first full year of plain packaging) the number of youth smokers rose from 12% to 16% in the sample. Now there is some complication – the 2013 survey contacted both landlines and mobiles whereas previously only landline contact had occurred.
But don’t take my word for it – here are the authors of the paper (emphasis added):
In 2013, different patterns emerged for the dual-frame and landline samples: current smoking increased back to 16% in the dual-frame sample, and remained at 12% in the landline sample.
Also note that the number of people reporting friends smoking increased and the number of people living in households with smokers increased.
Then let’s look at behavioural responses.
First thing to notice – what is missing, again, is actual quit rates. Of course, given that they found that current smokers increased in 2013 compared to 2012 it is hardly surprising that they didn’t report that figure. Also not the gap between “Thought about quitting” and “Tried to quit”. Massive drop. If I had the data I would like to explore the overlap between “Tried to quit” and “Smoked less”. I suspect they are largely the same group of people. What is most, however, is the “No impact” column. To be sure it has declined over time – yet remains at 48 per cent. If we combine that with the “Smoke more” column the some 54 per cent of youth smokers did not respond at all to the policy and youth smoking rates overall increased.
Despite documenting a comprehensive failure of the policy the authors conclude:
This study adds to the evidence by demonstrating a considerable positive response to plain packaging among Australian adolescents and young adults, including quitting-related behaviours and thoughts, behavioural and emotional indicators of social denormalisation and high levels of support for the policy. …
Countries considering introducing plain packaging legislation should be encouraged by these findings.
Quite astonishing that those conclusions are drawn and that the social denormalisation of young people is considered to be a “good thing”.