The federal government signaled last month that it intends to follow Australia’s lead and introduce plain cigarette packaging.
It’s a move that would make any two packs look virtually the same, and is widely believed to be a powerful tool to fight smoking.
But what if it actually made things worse? That’s the conclusion of Sinclair Davidson, a professor of institutional economics at Melbourne’s RMIT.
LISTEN: Guest Host Drex talks plain cigarette packaging with Sinclair Davidson
Davidson published a paper on the topic last month, in which he found no correlation between the switch to plain packaging and smoking rates. He says over the long term, those rates are dropping, but weren’t affected by the switch.
“Plain packaging has nothing to do with it.”
But Davidson says beyond the move failing to achieve its stated objective- it’s had other, unintended consequences.
“People didn’t stop smoking, which is what the government wanted. They simply started substituting. So instead of buying Winnie Blues, for example, paying 25, 30 dollars a pack for that they went for buying $13 dollar, what we call “cheapies.”
He says that cut in price could possibly result in people actually smoking more.
Davidson says the move to uniform, plain packaging has also destroyed brand loyalty, which he argues is also pushing people towards illegal cigarettes.
“The increase in contraband has gone up by about 26% in the two years since the introduction of plain packaging.”
He says those two results alone show the switch to be bad policy, which could end up causing problems in the long run.
“To the extent that people may smoke more, or illegal tobacco, that could actually increase the health costs because when you buy cigarettes from a reputable company, you know exactly what poisons are going into your body. When you buy from illegal suppliers you’ve got absolutely no idea what it is you’re putting into your body, and the adverse health consequences could be even greater.”
And he has a message for the Canadian government: Look closely at the Australian example before you take the ‘common sense’ of plain packaging for granted.