This morning the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released results for the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.
The anti-smoking lobby is crowing that the results support the tobacco plain packaging policy
“This is the biggest drop I’ve ever seen. This is champagne-cork pulling time,” professor Simon Chapman of the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health said on Thursday.
“It’s almost like the equivalent of developing a very good vaccine against lung cancer. The survey was taken before the December 2013 price rise – the only major factor* that would explain this is the introduction of plain packaging.”
but – as always when dealing with the progressive left – you have to check the data yourself.
Here is the headline result:
The proportion of daily smokers has fallen – smoking in Australia is in long-term decline and has been so since the 1960s. So the fact that the number is down on 2010 is not as interesting as the nanny staters would want us to believe. Look at the proportion of ex-smokers – also declining. In fact the proportion of ex-smokers has fallen from 26.4% ten years ago to 24.0% last year. In other words, the decline in the proportion of smokers in the population is being driven by people who have never smoked not by people quitting smoking.
Population growth in Australia is driven by natural growth and by immigration. To the extent the immigration program selects non-smokers over smokers there will be a downward bias in the proportion of smokers in Australia anyway. At the same time, however, more people are never taking up tobacco consumption anyway – and this has been very clear since 1998, long before the plain packaging policy was ever introduced.
So, bottom line, the data released today is generally silent on the efficacy of plain packaging. Certainly it does not support the notion that plain packaging has led to increased quit rates.
What is problematic for the nanny staters is the increase in tobacco consumption by young women. Despite media reports suggesting that “young people” are smoking less, the data do not support inference when looking at women aged 18 – 29.
See also Christopher Snowdon here.
It is quite astonishing the lengths the nanny-staters are going to claim that plain packaging was successful. Of course, much of it must the loyalty to the Gillard government that introduced the measure, then some of it represents an irrational hatred of big business and personal responsibility.
* This statement is false – there was a 25% increase in tobacco excise in 2010.
Update: Smoking in the US is down despite tobacco being cheap and no plain packaging.