There is a steady flow of evidence to support the view that Nicola Roxon’s signature policy – plain packaging on tobacco products – has failed.
This morning Christian Kerr at the Australian has the latest revelation:
Eighteen months after the previous government’s laws came into force, new data, obtained by The Australian, shows that tobacco sales volumes increased by 59 million “sticks”, or individual cigarettes or their roll-your-own equivalents last year.
The 0.3 per cent increase, though modest, goes against a 15.6 per slide in tobacco sales over the previous four years — and undermines claims by then health minister Nicola Roxon that Australia would introduce the “world’s toughest anti-smoking laws”.
So what’s happening?
Plain packaging laws, which came into force in December 2012, have instead boosted demand for cheaper cigarettes, with reports of a more than 50 per cent rise in the market for lower cost cigarettes.
The research by industry monitor InfoView, which shows a rise in the market share of cheaper cigarettes from 32 per cent to 37 per cent last year, is backed up by retailers, consumer marketers and the industry, with cigarette maker Philip Morris saying its information showed no drop in demand.
Australasian Association of Convenience Stores chief executive Jeff Rogut said sales by his members grew by $120 million or 5.4 per cent last year. “Talking to members, one of the most common refrains they get from people coming into stores is, ‘What are your cheapest smokes?’,” he said.
Consumers have substituted from higher priced branded cigarettes to lower priced unbranded cigarettes and consistent with an effective fall in price are consuming more. Unsurprising once you understand that demand curves slope down.
Of course it isn’t just the industry that is providing evidence of increased smoking rates.
The federal budget forecasts tobacco excise to continue rising from $7.85 billion in 2013-14 to $10.98bn in 2017-18, with excise increases scheduled for the next three Septembers.
Last year’s NSW population health survey, released last month, showed 16.4 per cent of all adults in the state smoke, up from 14.7 per cent in 2011, while in South Australia rates were up from 16.7 per cent to 19.4 per cent over the past year.
For a policy that had the intent of reducing smoking rates, this is a disaster. It comes back to the fact that the previous government had a form above substance approach to policy. Be seen to be doing the right thing, even if it isn’t. The other thing is that it would never take advice, even when it didn’t know what it was doing.
The question is whether the Abbott government will repeal the plain-packaging laws? I hope so, but I suspect not. They don’t have the will to take tough decisions.