Tobacco PIR shifts the goal posts

The long over-due Post-Implementation Review into Plain Packaging has been very quietly released today.

Many thanks to the Pubic Health Association of Australia for notifying us of the release – the Department of Health itself has no mention of this at its website. I was particularly interested to see this:

PHAA Tobacco spokesperson Professor Mike Daube, who chaired the Australian Government’s Expert Committee that recommended plain packaging said, “This is great news for everyone except Big Tobacco. It shows clearly that the legislation is more than meeting its objectives. We know that smoking in adults and children and cigarette sales are declining, but it is especially rewarding that this meticulous independent analysis attributes part of that decline to plain packaging alone, even within its first three years”.

That is a very important consideration. The reforms in 2012 consisted of two changes:

  1. Standardised packaging (so-called plain packaging); and,
  2. Increased size of warnings on packages.

This is how the Department of Health currently describe the PIR (emphasis added):

The Department of Health has engaged Siggins Miller Consultants Pty Ltd to undertake consultation with stakeholders that have been impacted by the tobacco plain packaging measure and to conduct a cost benefit analysis of the measure to inform the development of a Post Implementation Review (PIR). The consultation period runs from 16 February 2015 to 27 March 2015.

In the online questionnaire that Siggins Miller Consultants Pty Ltd deployed in their consultation, this is what they said:

Okay – so the PIR is looking only at the plain packaging component of the policy introduced in 2012, and the Public Health Association of Australia tells us that very careful analysis has untangled the two effects and part of the decline in tobacco consumption is due to plain packaging.

Seems very strange thing to say when the PIR itself reports (emphasis added):

Both of the 2012 packaging changes are designed to reduce smoking levels and to work in concert with each other. Indeed, one of the aims of plain packaging is to make graphic health warnings more effective. As noted by Dr Chipty, due to the timing of the 2012 packaging changes it is not possible to identify separately the effects of tobacco plain packaging and enlarged and updated graphic health warnings on smoking prevalence without making restrictive assumptions. The analysis undertaken was, however, able to estimate the impact of both measures working in concert from other aspects of Australia’s comprehensive approach to tobacco control, such as excise increases.

I wonder if the Public Health Association of Australia actually read the report? Maybe they didn’t expect anyone else to read it.

So now we have a small methodological problem: The PIR is meant to report on the efficacy of plain packaging per se. That is what the Health Department promises. That is what Siggins Miller Consultants Pty Ltd tell us is happening in their consultation. That is what the Public Health Association of Australia tells us has been done. The only problem being that the PIR itself tells us that it cannot be done, and has not been done.

As they say in the classics: More to come.

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10 Responses to Tobacco PIR shifts the goal posts

  1. Rodney


    The real objection to smoking is that look of bliss on the face of the exhaling addict . I have sent you an attachment of a letter I received from the Health department.

  2. Robk

    Any scientific method was obviously never a part of the design. Any means to the desired end will do. These are determined fanatics besieged by corporate social engineering (advertising), using every desperate means of counter social engineering to achieve the result. Truth and science are collateral damage.

  3. Bruce of Newcastle

    PHAA Tobacco spokesperson Professor Mike Daube, who chaired the Australian Government’s Expert Committee that recommended plain packaging said, “This is great news for everyone except Big Tobacco. It shows clearly that the legislation is more than meeting its objectives. We know that smoking in adults and children and cigarette sales are declining

    Oh yes, pull the other one it has bells on.

    71 tonnes of illicit loose leaf tobacco worth $40 million seized (SMH 16-10-2015)
    $2.7m illegal cigs seized in raids (HS 14-10-2015)
    ABF arrests two men over smuggled tobacco ( 24-07-2015)
    Police bust cigarette smuggling syndicate (Perth Now 30-9-2015)
    Black market tobacco ‘booming’ in Australia: KPMG study (Age 12-4-2014)
    Illegal Cigarette Seizures Keep Border Force Busy (HuffPo 27-11-2015)
    Black market in tobacco booming in the streets of Sydney, with cheap Asian imports flooding the streets (DT 10-9-2014)
    Criminals reap huge profits by importing illegal cigarettes (The Oz 30-9-2012)
    46,000 cigarettes seized at Melbourne Airport ( 1-11-2015)
    Customs nabs smuggled tobacco in Vic (GCB 28-3-2014)
    Millions of cigarettes seized (CT 13-1-2013)

    That is just a quick Google with a single search term. They catch, what, a tenth of smuggled tobacco and cigarettes? None of which will be included in the official sales data. If the ‘objectives’ were to massively expand illegality then that has succeeded.

  4. Tim Neilson

    Bruce of Newcastle
    #1958108, posted on February 26, 2016 at 3:18 pm
    Anecdotally, about a couple of months after the most recent big excise increase , I started to see Marlboro and Dunhill packets reappear on the streets of inner Melbourne, along with some brands I’ve never heard of including some with Asian writing on them.

  5. Baldrick

    Meanwhile, lies are still pedalled …

    Heart Foundation @HeartAust
    Report showing plain packaging led to tens of thousands of Aussies quitting another win against Big Tobacco

  6. Alex Davidson

    It’s very depressing to witness just how far we have departed from the idea of government as servant, to government as master. The political class is now so drunk with power gained through plunder that they no longer feel bound to respond to rational criticism with logic, but with obtuse nonsense.

  7. .

    “The” Heart Foundation is as corrupt as Russia and as crummy as a pack of stale Tim Tams. You can pay for their tick.

    A lot of food they sponsor is simply no good for CVD, stroke, hypertension, diabetes or more generally, metabolic syndrome.

  8. Michel Lasouris

    And again, who gives a stuff? Aren’t there REALLY important things over which to argue?

  9. Sinclair Davidson

    Rodney – thanks for that.

  10. nisakiman

    Rose recently posted this pertinent comment over at Frank’s blog. I’m sure she won’t mind me repeating it here

    Rose says:
    February 26, 2016 at 10:35 am

    Warning Labels With Graphic Images Don’t Deter Smokers, May Encourage Reactionary Smoking
    Feb 24, 2016

    “According to the researchers, the graphic labels are perceived by many as a threat to their choices, freedom, or autonomy.

    “What we found is that most people don’t like these warning labels, whether they are smokers or nonsmokers,” said communications doctoral student Nicole LaVoie, lead researcher of the study, in a statement. “It makes them angry, it makes them express negative thoughts about the packaging, that they’re being manipulated. Ultimately, it also makes them think that the source — the government in this case, mandating these labels — is overly domineering, is being too much in their business.”

    The biggest problem is that the strongest response of this kind came from participants who measured high in psychological reactance; a trait that makes someone more prone to negative and resistant thoughts when they believe they’re being told what to do. Smokers, unfortunately, tend to be somewhat higher in this trait. Professor Brian Quick, a co-author of the paper, said that because of this, a boomerang effect can occur.

    “If these individuals see things as freedom threats, they are going to be more attracted to perform the threatened behavior,” he said.”

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