16 October 2012

UK Tobacco Packaging

The 33pp 'To What Extent Can the UK Defend the Efficacy of Plain Packaging Legislation for Tobacco Products?' by Richard Coates notes that
The UK Government wants to introduce Australian-style plain cigarette packaging, despite opposition from Big Tobacco. To what extent can the UK defend the efficacy of this plain packaging legislation?
Coates concludes
 it appears that the Government has a strong foundation on which it can build a defence   of plain packaging legislation. There is strong empirical evidence for the efficacy of   plain   packaging   legislation,   and   there   is   apparently   sufficient rebuttal   to   the   arguments   against   the   proposals to lead   to   success for their defence. However, there are still three areas of analytical   deficiencies. 
Firstly,  the  experimental  evidence  in  favour  of  the  legislation  rests  on  the  shoulders  of  few  studies.   There   are   no   British   studies   providing   evidence   for   the   argument   that   this   will   undermine   the   general   attractiveness   of   smoking,   and   only   the   Thrasher   auction   experiment   provides   empirical   evidence  that  this  will  decrease  demand  for  cigarettes.  On  neither  count  is  there  sufficiently  strong   evidence   to   support   a   complete   defence,   contrary   to   suggestions   by   the   Public   Health   Research   Consortium  (2012),  which  simply  accepts  both  findings.  For  a  defence  to  rest  so  strongly  on  such  a   level   of   investigation   would   be   unadvisable.   Consequently,   further   research   into   the   effects   of   the   legislation,  eliminating  the  flaws  in  the  studies  noted  above,  is  required.  Moreover,  a  greater  focus   on   complementary   policies   is   required,   concerning   those   currently   in   operation,   and   potential   future  supplementary  legislation. 
Secondly,  cigarette  manufacturers,  or  anti-­‐smoking  campaigns  such  as  ASH,  have  conducted  much   of   the   other   theoretical   modelling.   Independent,   impartial   research   is   required   to   a   much   greater   degree  for  a  clearer  picture  of  the  true  effects  of  the  proposal.  While  academics  such  as  Hammond should be commended   for   their   impartial   work   in   the   modelling   of   smokers’   decisions and   behaviour,  independent  empirical  investigations  into  the  UK  economy  are  still  required.          
Finally,   necessity is   a   factor not fully   considered so far.   While   a   conclusion   on   the   question   of   the   necessity  of  this  legislation  would  require  an  examination  of  each  of  the  alternatives  in  equivalent   detail,   some   preliminary   comments   can   be   made.   Given   that   brand   power is the   focus of   the   legislation,  further  advertising  restrictions  are  often  cited  as  a  less-­intrusive  alternative.  However,   Wei Tan,   in   his   dynamic   analysis of   tobacco   markets (2004),   explains   that   advertising   is   particularly   ineffective   for  cigarettes. He   argues that   the   determinants   of   demand   are   determined independently of   advertising   (see   also   Roberts   & Samuelson, 1988).   Consequently,  compared   to   the  level  of  restrictions  imposed,  a corresponding  fall  in  demand will  be  small.  Moreover,  as  firms’   advertising   costs   decrease, they   can   lower prices   without   reducing   their   profits,   which   will   increase demand   for   cigarettes   more   than   the   restrictions   on   advertising   will   decrease it, and so further  advertising  restrictions  are  ineffective.          
Malcolm  Gladwell,  writing  on  the  subject  of  the  legislation’s  necessity,  has decried  plain  packaging, instead proposing that   nicotine levels be   limited (Marketing Magazine,   March   2012).   He argues that under this   model,   smokers could never   become   addicted,  as they would never reach the addiction  ‘tipping  point’.  This should  be  rejected  as  an  alternative,  though, as  it  concentrates  solely  on the  non-­‐cognitive   model of smoking,   and   does   not   engage with the   issues   concerning   branding within  the  cognitive  model.  While  it  might  have  similar  effects  at  reducing  relapse,  it will  do  little  to   actually encourage cessation   (Schneider   et   al. 1981).  Moreover,   this is   not a mutually   exclusive alternative.   Martin Lindstrom’s suggestions in   the   same   publication   are   by   contrast   an alternative   to   plain   packaging,  but his proposal of   ‘random’ packets is   designed to break down brand   power,   has   little   empirical evidence   in   its   support.   Moreover,   the cost   of   enforcing   his   policy   merely   confirms  that  plain  packaging  is  a  better  alternative.          
Overall, the   preliminary analysis and investigations compiled so far suggests that   plain packaging legislation will   bring   the   evidential health benefits needed to defend the   proposed   legislation.   However,  facing  big  tobacco,  fighting for  its  rights,  is  formidable,  and further  analysis  and  evidence   is  needed  before  the  Government  can  take  this  bold  step,  and  be  confident  in  its  success.