The Trudeau government’s plan to force tobacco companies to use plain packaging on their products is a paternalistic, nanny-state policy that will fail to reduce smoking rates.
Introduced by Julia Gillard’s Labor government in Australia, plain packaging is the public health lobby’s latest attempt to reduce smoking rates by stigmatizing tobacco products. Under such a policy, tobacco products are sold in specific, government-approved packages designed to minimize their appeal. All product branding is made illegal, with the various brands of cigarettes only distinguishable by the specific font and size of the text on the package. In Australia, the government mandated olive green packages, with health warnings prominently displayed.
The hope that this will reduce smoking rates is based on the absurd, and highly paternalistic, idea that smokers are unable to resist the lure of colourful boxes. Public-health experts assume that, given the universally accepted fact that smoking is bad for your health, smokers must be incapable of resisting the tobacco industry’s marketing.
Yet there’s no evidence to support this. In fact, a study by the European Public Health Association found “no significant association between design and marketing features of tobacco products and an early initiation of regular smoking.”
But what about evidence from Australia? In a peer-reviewed econometric study, economists Sinclair Davidson and Ashton de Silva said there was “no empirical evidence to support the notion that the plain packaging policy has resulted in lower household expenditure on tobacco than there otherwise would have been.” There was even some evidence to suggest household expenditure on tobacco had increased. This may be due to the increased sale of counterfeit tobacco, which is harder to distinguish when plain packages are used.
Indeed, the number of counterfeit tobacco seizures by Australia’s border protection agency increased by 60 per cent from mid-2011 to mid-2013 (a time frame covering the introduction of plain packaging laws). British newspaper The Sun even reported that Indonesian counterfeit tobacco smugglers were cheering when the U.K. decided to follow Australia’s lead.
Ironically, the same public health organizations advocating for plain packaging — despite the evidence it doesn’t work — are completely opposed to e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking. All evidence shows e-cigarettes are a far safer alternative to smoking, but Health Canada still warns Canadians not to purchase them.
Read the full article at the National Post.