Sunday 10 June 2012

Finally Some Evidence For Plain Packaging?

You may have noticed, during their campaigning for plain packaging of tobacco, that the tobacco control industry has desperately avoided referring to any real evidence for their claims. Hardly surprising really, since even Australia's prime proponent admits that it doesn't exist.

Sure, they've cobbled together a list of studies written by their mates to create an illusion of certainty, but the general thrust of their campaign so far has been to repeat "children", "cancer", "protect", and "tobacco industry" and hope that no-one calls their emotional bluff.

Via a FOI request, though, it seems they might finally be forced to come up with some concrete figures.

With apologies to those who know about such processes, each piece of legislation must undergo a cost and benefit analysis before becoming law. One such way of doing so is to conduct an impact assessment (IA) which investigates these things. To make absolutely sure that the government isn't just making stuff up, the Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC) is tasked with scrutinising impact assessments and making recommendations.

The documents placed on public display for plain packaging included the initial impact assessment, which the RPC weren't perfectly happy with.

They gave it a traffic light style rating of 'amber' which is explained on their website thus:
AMBER – If an IA receives an Amber flag, this means we have areas of concern with the quality of analysis and evidence presented. These issues should be addressed prior to the IA being finalised so as to improve its contribution to the final decision made.
As you can imagine, I was rather intrigued as to what "areas of concern" they had, so I asked. The 'opinion' is reproduced below.

Firstly, you'll note that the government have blithely dismissed the negative impact on business as 'neutral'. The RPC rightly ask - considering that one of the main reasons tobacco controllers give as justification for plain packaging is that industry profits will be hit hard - for the evidence for this.

That'll be a work of twisted logic when the final impact assessment is released, methinks.

More significantly, though, the RPC wants to know what evidence there is that banning colours and logos will have an effect on smoking rates which will outweigh the burden they are placing on packaging companies, retailers, the public and other businesses including, yes, the tobacco industry (think GDP in a recession here).

Not just any effect either, they want evidence of a "marginal" effect. That being, one which is over and above that 'achieved' by hiding tobacco behind shutters since April 6th.

Now, even absent of other tobacco control industry measures, proving any benefit of plain packaging would be difficult seeing as there is no reference point anywhere in the world. But to offer any 'marginal' benefit when tobacco displays were only hidden by law on April 6th is something only the most disingenuous economist or epidemiologist could offer up with a straight face (and a newly-enriched bank account).

Especially since the Department of Health itself, in its zeal to convince parliament, came up with some heroic financial claims (coupled with distortions of the truth) to bludgeon through banning displays back in 2008/9.

Having already dubiously claimed a 'conservative' saving of 2,786 youth smokers, and a whopping half billion pounds of benefits to the country, they now have to top that for plain packaging in the face of a complete lack of any tangible evidence whatsoever. But with business costs very much quantifiable.

We could be about to see one of the most egregious state abuses of statistics ever seen - that is, by 'proving' a non-existent financial benefit to the country which exceeds the extraordinary hammer blow to businesses and their employees who will be forced to suffer as a result - just to stop you from seeing a colour or bevelled edge on a cigarette packet.

Can't wait to see how they do it. It will be a work of art which could put Dynamo to shame.


noname said...

They omitted to add in the loss of revenue to the exchequer from drop in sales that they are predicting

c777 said...

This is just a side show.
The disenfranchisement between the government, (an economy within an economy)and the populus is broader than this single issue which though annoying pails into insignificance when compared to the big self inflicted disaster coming their way.
In the blue corner the government and associated cronies,lobbyists,thugs,
In the red corner the majority of productive decent hard working people.
The ones who actually pay the taxes.
Interesting times indeed.
It's just another example of pure arrogance from an out of touch and out of control government.

Woodsy42 said...

These are people who can prove that inefficient, expensive, heavily subsidised only occassionally working windmills generate cheap electricity and are good for the economy - if they can convince themselves of that they won't have a problem with tobacco packaging!

Patience spent said...

Ok so the Health Dictators have the cash,they have the power,they
have the media,they are convinced they have it all
So did Caeser

Day of Judgement

Furor Teutonicus said...

O.K so Britain brings in "plain packaging". What about cigarettes such as Gitannes, as one example, which, as far as I know are not produced in the U.K.

Will the French have to have special for Britain packaging lines?, Or will they be re-packed in Britain?

And is THIS cost taken into account?

fatsadman said...

The central flaw behind it all is the assumption (and it is nothing more than an assumption, it is not even a presumption because a presumption requires evidence to support it) that people will stop buying cigarettes because they are in plain packages. 

April the 6th saw a ban on the display of cigarettes in large stores.  Who imagines a single smoker will stop buying ciggies because of that?  If smokers are put-off by the lack of display at Tesco they will visit Mr Patel's Merrymart and buy them there for a few pence more.  The assertion I just made is a presumption because I base it on evidence of how human beings behave. 

So too with the outlawing of vending machines.  If you know you can't buy ciggies in the pub on a boozy night out you make sure you take enough with you, at considerably lower cost than you would have incurred by using a vending machine.  A few pence extra spent at Mr Patel's emporium rather than Tesco will be dwarfed by the saving made by not paying seven quid for a pack of 14 from a vending machine. 

Of course the whole thing is about de-normalisation, seeking to make smoking unacceptable so that in years to come fewer and fewer people will adopt the habit.  In a way that's fair enough as a concept, the problem comes when blatant lies are used to promote the policy. 

But then we had a decade of Gordon Brown persuading people that GDP growth based on borrowed money meant we were richer as a nation and the votes piled in for his party, so we can't expect honesty or objective analysis from any group promoting their own policy hobbyhorse.