WTO rules on plain packaging evidence

After the WTO plain packaging result was leaked last year – Australia won the case – it has taken a long time to actually release the reasoning. That happened yesterday our time. The judgement is over 800 pages long, but I have taken some interest in examining what the WTO said about the efficacy of the policy. There is a huge difference between a policy being legal and a policy actually achieving its stated policy goals.

My RMIT colleague Ash de Silva and I have looked very closely at the evidence surrounding plain packaging and have concluded that the policy did not achieve its stated policy goals. We have peer reviewed papers here and here and working papers at SSRN here and here.  None of that work is cited in the WTO report. Rather it relies on peer reviewed work that supports the efficacy of the policy and then submissions as to the validity of various statistical approaches and techniques.

What was particularly interesting is how the WTO interpreted the so-called Wakefield studies that Ash de Silva and I had critiqued. We covered these studies at the Cat and particularly drew attention to the $3 million price tag associated with the studies.  This is what Ash and I conclude:

Our results suggest that the independent, and combined, influences of plain packaging and health warnings had no statistically significant impact on smokers’ quit attempts as a result of the introduction of the plain packaging policy.

What did the WTO conclude (emphasis added)?

120. With this in mind, and based on the studies and expert reports before us and discussed above, the empirical evidence available to us regarding quitting-related outcomes and other distal outcomes, which is sometimes scarce, suggests that:
a. The impact of the TPP measures and enlarged GHWs on adult cigarette smokers’ quitting intention and quitting-related cognition reactions is limited and mixed.
b. The TPP measures and enlarged GHWs have had a statistically significant positive impact on avoidant behaviours, such as pack concealment, among adult cigarette smokers, while their impact on stubbing out and stopping smoking is much more limited and mixed.
c. Although the TPP measures and enlarged GHWs have statistically significantly increased calls to the Quitline, the observed impact of the TPP measures and enlarged GHWs on quit attempts is very limited and mixed.
d. The empirical evidence of the impact of the TPP measures and enlarged GHWs on adolescents’ quitting-related outcomes is limited. This evidence suggests that the impact of the TPP measures and enlarged GHWs on adolescents’ refraining from smoking cigarettes and thoughts about quitting is statistically not significant. No empirical evidence has been submitted to us on pack concealment among adolescent smokers.

Well – that is $3 million down the drain. Compare what the WTO said about the Wakefield studies to what the Australian population was told at the time.

The first comprehensive evaluation of Australia’s ground-breaking plain packaging tobacco laws shows they are working, the Victorian Cancer Council says.

Fourteen separate studies on the impact of plain packaging in its first year were published today in a special supplement to the British Medical Journal.

The research found after the laws were implemented, there was a “statistically significant increase” in the number of people thinking about and making attempts to quit smoking.

Cancer Council Victoria researcher, Professor Melanie Wakefield, said before plain packaging about 20 per cent of people made attempts to quit over the course of a month.

That’s from the ABC – so it must be true.

I’m also a bit concerned that some perjury may have occurred.  The WTO claims:

113. We note that Brennan et al. 2015 is the only peer-reviewed study analysing the association between proximal outcomes and distal outcomes based on the NTPPTS data.

We have covered this point before.  The Victorian Cancer Council was required to investigate immediate and distal outcomes of the policy and when Ash and I had suggested that they had not done so, the Victorian Cancer Council responded with a long press release that included this explanation (emphasis original):

The NTPPS was quite explicitly not designed to assess quitting success or change in smoking prevalence but rather focussed on the immediate impact of the legislation on perceptions of the pack, effects of health warnings and understanding of product harmfulness.

So why the WTO thinks that the NTPPS data does what the Victorian Cancer Council explicitly says it does not do is mystery.

Anyway – long story short (well not too short) the Wakefield survey and the papers that flow from that survey were not convincing to the WTO.

That is a damning assessment because what did convince the WTO was even worse – junk science.  I have provided a critique of the Chipty analysis contained in the Post-Implementation Review before.

To remind ourselves: Chipty manufactured a change in trend lines in this graph by simply choosing the start and end dates to coincide with the introduction of plain packaging.

She also had an econometric analysis where she finds over a 34 month period after the introduction of plain packaging (and increased graphic health warnings) that the policy had contributed to a 0.55% decline in the prevalence of tobacco consumption. Sounds impressive – and the WTO are impressed – yet she never reported that the sample error in her data was 0.6%. That is bigger than the effect that she reports to have found. The WTO does not report that sample error either. Furthermore it makes no mention of the pseudo-R^2 of her model being 0.091. Nor the unusual base case being an unmarried, male, Australian born, 14 – 17 year old, with a tertiary qualification, employed full time, but with an income less than $6000, and living in Victoria.

So the WTO looked past the peer-reviewed research after, quite rightly, finding it to be unconvincing but accepted the non-peer reviewed Chipty analysis that to my mind is even more unconvincing.

So while the WTO has ruled that the policy is legal, it still seems to me that the efficacy of the policy is in doubt. The WTO only looks at evidence up to 2015 (pretty slack given that more evidence of failure has appeared in Australia since then and also in France and the UK).

This entry was posted in Plain Packaging, Wakefield data, Wakefield Study. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to WTO rules on plain packaging evidence

  1. stackja

    Put in pipe and smoke it?

  2. Some History

    So the WTO looked past the peer-reviewed research after, quite rightly, finding it to be unconvincing but accepted the non-peer reviewed Chipty analysis that to my mind is even more unconvincing.

    Sophistry 101.

  3. Some History

    …the non-peer reviewed Chipty Shifty analysis…

  4. Dr Fred Lenin

    The aparatchiks in WTO might be worrying now that President Trump may pull the USA out of the group ,this would defeat its purposes , giving high paying “jobs”to a lot of comrades ,and ensuring the u.n. Communist plan to wreck the economies of the western world to enable world unelected communist government . Our present branch of the alp government will no doubt stay in to enables the comrades to continue their wrecking .

  5. Egor

    Smoking is a very Libert past time. You edgy thrill seekers, you.

  6. Alex Davidson

    The lesson here is that it is impossible to fight the plundering class on their own terms. If they say black is white, no amount of demonstrating it isn’t will ever cause them to change course.

    What we need to do is relentlessly attack their Achilles heel, which I would argue is their misuse of power to crush our freedoms and steal from us.

  7. hzhousewife

    I, sadly, know quite a few families afflicted by young persons addicted to ice. Two more became known to me this very week. I happen to think that if these young person had instead been addicted to nicotine, they would be able to live more productive and longer lives, and I have no doubt that their parents, partners, children and best frieneds, would rather hang out with a smoker than an ice addict.
    But, our government knows best (thanks Nicola Roxon).

  8. As an aside, I’d like to hear Sinc’s views about the banking Royal Commission. I remember that he was quite against this, it (the Royal Commission) being more or less a witch hunt over nothing.

  9. Percy Popinjay

    young persons addicted to ice

    And they have nothing else in their lives, because why?

    Hint: Co**ecti**sm.

    Idle hands indeed. We are sleepwalking into a very ugly future.

  10. Sinclair Davidson

    So far nothing to change my opinion of the banking royal commission.

  11. Percy Popinjay

    So far nothing to change my opinion of the banking royal commission.

    That’s wonderful to hear, Perfesser.

  12. yarpos

    $3Mill to review some studies?? must have been some expensive junkets involved.

  13. Nato

    I like reading the comments here at the Cat. I can’t make myself care about a polity proving their Gnostic insights to be true. It’s nice to know it’s just me.
    For a good read on one famous scientific truth that bypassed per review and failed all replication testing… https://medium.com/s/trustissues/the-lifespan-of-a-lie-d869212b1f62

  14. Nato

    Please read “proving” in my comment with ominous “scare quotes” around “the word”. I’m not the least trying to deny underhanded methods and nefarious intentions.

  15. JC

    I don’t understand why is the WTO discussing the benefits or otherwise of the policy. Cigarettes are legal products, so the WTO’s only concern should be the possibility of trademark infringement and if it is legal to restrict trademark under WTO rules. Why is it their business to figure out if the policy worked or not as that’s their theoretical purview.

  16. Tom

    The lesson here is that it is impossible to fight the plundering class on their own terms.

    Yes, Alex Davidson. But it is important for researchers like Davidson and de Silva to point out yet another example of people who have appointed themselves our expert class using scientific lies to maintain their empires.

    In other words, they’re bullshitting us and themselves. It’s no different from the junk science that is used to maintain the $US2 trillion per annum climate alarmism industry (estimated from figures given here) global climate scam.

    As I have previously pointed out, the climate scam is bigger than the Australian economy. When that scam is finally removed as a source of funding — hopefully after some of the ringleaders have been jailed — unemployable self-appointed experts will be looking for a new scam to support their lifestyle and joining the Health Nazi Industrial Complex — which ran the junk science on smoking past the WTO — will be irresistible.

    Well done, Sinclair and Ash. Keep at it. The Health Nazi Industrial Complex will never stop lying.

  17. Looking at the figure, I’m more interested in what’s happening post 2015 – looks like the data is flattening out, i.e. zero slope. “Efficacy” run its course?

    Apart from that, the appropriate fit would be quadratic, not two straight line segments.

  18. So far nothing to change my opinion of the banking royal commission.

    Well, if it was a witch hunt, they’ve found and burned a lot of witches.

  19. Petros

    Shouldn’t this have been done by the WHO, not the WTO? Assuming of course that these organizations should exist in the first place. BTW Madeline Albright’s role in bringing China into the WTO is interesting reading. She was brought in to replace a seasoned negotiator who was not letting China have things all its own way.

  20. Major Elvis Newton

    “…it relies on peer reviewed work that supports the efficacy of the policy and then submissions as to the validity of various statistical approaches and techniques…”
    Sounds very much like the modus operandi of the CAGW scam industry.

  21. JohnA

    bemused #2751274, posted on July 1, 2018, at 6:41 am

    So far nothing to change my opinion of the banking royal commission.

    Well, if it was a witch hunt, they’ve found and burned a lot of witches.

    I suggest that they will discover that the banks have been busy ferreting out the witches and lighting the faggots even before the royal commission was a gleam in a politician’s eye. They forget that gathering evidence is a tedious job – royal commissions have enormous powers to compel the giving of evidence, which is gleefully reported by the media before it has been tested in a prosecuting court.

  22. I suggest that they will discover that the banks have been busy ferreting out the witches and lighting the faggots even before the royal commission was a gleam in a politician’s eye.

    It would appear that the banks haven’t been sufficiently thorough. I smell the odour of hubris.

    They forget that gathering evidence is a tedious job – royal commissions have enormous powers to compel the giving of evidence, which is gleefully reported by the media before it has been tested in a prosecuting court.

    Given that the banks themselves have admitted their transgressions, whether they are prosecuted or not, they have damned themselves regardless.

  23. Bela Bartok

    Hey Sinc, will your post be sent to the relevant government authority with a ‘please explain’?
    Maybe our frequent contributor David Leyonhjelm could ask the question in parliament? Or a feisty backbencher in the HoR?
    Posting here is good; forcing the bastards to admit to it is better; closing down the scheme and admitting failure of a labor policy – priceless.

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