Has plain packaging failed? Cigarette sales are on the rise

cigarettesAustralia’s plain packaging smoking legislation came into force back in December 2012, forcing all tobacco products to be sold in dull, drab boxes with no fancy design, branding, or manufacturer information. Instead, there was only permitted to be graphic and disturbing health warnings, aimed to deter smokers from continuing with the habit, and non-smokers from actually beginning to start smoking.

Logically, one would naturally expect sales of tobacco to maybe drop a year on after the world’s first law for such a requirement. However, remarkably the complete opposite has happened, and industry figures show that sales of tobacco products have actually increased since the plain packaging legislation kicked in.

The Australian Labor health minister Nicola Roxon pushed through the law almost 18 months ago as an attempt to discourage people from smoking, a habit which claims around 15,000 lives each year in the country, with social and economic costs estimated at $31.5 billion annually.

Unfortunately, the plan has clearly backfired tremendously with sales skyrocketing by an incredible 59 million cigarettes in 2013, up by 0.3% on the previous year. This rise comprises of both packaged cigarettes and the roll-your-own equivalents, according to ‘The Australian’ newspaper.

This increase marks a stark turnaround in broader trend of tobacco sales in Australia, which had previously declined by 15.6% in the four years prior.

However, the introduction of plain packaged tobacco appears to have boosted the demand for cheaper cigarettes, with reports of a more than 50 per cent rise in the market for lower cost cigarettes.

The findings stem from research conducted by industry monitor InfoView, demonstrating an increase in the market share of cheaper cigarettes, rising from 32% to 37% last year. This appears to be corroborated by retailers, consumer markets and the industry. For instance, cigarette maker Philip Morris claims its ­information has indicated absolutely no decline in demand.

Australasian Association of Convenience Stores chief executive Jeff Rogut said that sales by his members had risen by $120 million, or 5.4% last year. He commented: “Talking to members, one of the most common refrains they get from people coming into stores is, ‘What are your cheapest smokes?’.”

In addition, there has been more worrying statistics to emerge in recent weeks by the NSW and South Australian governments that show smoking appears to be increasing at a rapid rate.

The 2013 population health survey for NSW was published last month and stated that 16.4% of all adults residing in the state smoked, up from 14.7% in 2011. Moreover, for South Australia, a similar pattern was evident. The rate of adults smoking has increased from 16.7% in 2011 to 19.4% last year.

However, the opposition health spokesperson Catherine King spoke to The Australian and said she would ignore industry data and instead rely on information obtained from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which showed that rates of smoking were still dropping.

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