At the weekend, a public health group in New South Wales joined industry, economists and politicians in recognising that Australia is suffering a recent growing problem with illicit tobacco (emphases mine).
NSW Health has told a review of tobacco laws that its inspectors have detected increased sales of illicit tobacco, which is packaged without health warnings and is sometimes blatantly labelled "illegal tobacco".
Despite the emerging problem, the health department's powers extend only to photographing and taking samples of illegal tobacco, and inspectors are unable to seize the products. It called for laws to be strengthened.And yesterday, Australian customs chiefs said that they "recognise this problem".
Figures reveal a huge increase in the importation of illegal cigarettes and “chop chop” tobacco via sea and air over the past year.
The chief executive of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, Roman Quaedvlieg, said authorities were now contending with “more players” in the black market, with increasing numbers of criminals attracted to the lucrative business.
“We recognise this problem,” Mr Quaedvlieg said. “It is a priority and we are dealing with it."This is all hardly surprising given the pressures that anti-smoking lunatics have heaped on the legal market. A country the size of Australia has porous borders simply because it is so darn big and impossible to enforce, and when your pack of Marlboro is 10 times more expensive than the same product in a neighbouring state while also being riddled with gory anti-smoker wet dreams, the entirely predictable result is a legal industry jockeying for market share with organised crime.
Yet Australian tobacco controllers are still laughably trying to pretend it's not happening. And doing so very badly.
In March, a KPMG report entitled Illicit Tobacco in Australia was released which revealed that the black market had ballooned to 14.5% of all tobacco smoked in the country. But in an article in the Tobacco Control Journal which couldn't have been more badly timed if they tried - published as it was on the same weekend that the left of centre Sydney Morning Herald admitted that illicit tobacco in Australia is a major problem in not one, but two articles - resident tobacco control junk scientists from Cancer Council Victoria attempted to contest this, specifically with reference to plain packaging.
The first thing to make you laugh about their study - which, incidentally, they have presented to the world as "independent" despite the authors being world-renowned anti-smoking professionals - is that they are claiming it is more rigorous than the one conducted by KPMG.
The KPMG study involved the collection of 12,000 discarded cigarette packs across 16 different towns and cities covering 75% of the population. Additionally, the company is recognised as a world expert at this kind of survey with the OECD describing their methodology as “the most authoritative assessment of the level of counterfeit and contraband cigarettes across EU member states” . By contrast, the Tobacco Control study authors are career tobacco control chancers whose only goal is to 'prove' that policies they have badgered the Australian government for are not having the negative consequences that everyone else but them is seeing.
As for their methods, in any other public health sphere self-reported evidence by consumers is ridiculed and lambasted as unreliable. This is particularly problematic when dealing with the issue of illegal tobacco, I mean if someone called you at home and asked if you were participating in an illegal activity, what would you say?
Yet the Tobacco Control study relied solely on this dodgy data. It was merely a telephone survey of 8,679 smokers which covers a far inferior proportion of the population to the KPMG one. It is therefore remarkable that the study authors actually call into question the validity of the methodology used by KPMG in their analysis of the same issue. Specifically the authors’ state “packs discarded in public places are likely to provide a poor representation of the universe of all packs used by smokers”, yet they seem to believe that a telephone survey - complete with all the baggage that self-reported data carries - provides a more accurate representation! These people are well beyond delusional.
And there's more.
If you were a tobacco control shyster and wanted to put together a smokescreen to pretend that plain packaging hadn't increased the illicit market, how would you go about it? Well, one way would be to make sure you studied something which was irrelevant to the country you were studying. For example, it has been established that in Australia a fake illegal brand called Manchester cigarettes has managed to grab 1.4% market share amongst tobacco consumers. These types of products are classified as "cheap whites" which the Guardian describes as "cigarettes that are created by organised crime gangs and have no legitimate market anywhere". So an Australian tobacco controller would obviously prefer to study "cheap whites" which are not common in Australia, thus diluting the size of the problem and making it easier to ignore the volume of the increased illicit trade. Did they do this? Of course they did!
The way they chose to label a brand as a "cheap white" was to use the brands mentioned by the World Customs Organisation (WCO) in their 2012 report. These included Jin Ling, made in Russia, Ukraine and Moldova; and Racquel which is made in Cyprus. Now, call this a hunch, but I don't reckon that many packs of those illegal brands make it from Europe to the sandpit on the other side of the globe, do you? Manchester brand however - the "cheap white" most prevalent in Australia - was conveniently not mentioned in the WCO report. Fancy that!
Hang around, because there's more.
Even with all those shenanigans going on, there was still some statistical mendacity to perform before they could pretend that illicit tobacco wasn't on the rise. They did this by misrepresenting the data in the results section of the study. They considered that a measure of what would be classed as smuggled factory made (FM) cigarettes would be "where the reported price paid was 20% or more below the recommended retail price" and came to this conclusion (emphases again mine).
'The prevalence of international brands of FM cigarettes purchased in Australia for 20% or more below the RRP was low in all phases (under 0.5%, unadjusted) and did not increase between pre-PP and PP, nor linearly during PP'.Very good, except the actual data showed something quite different.
The number on the left is the prevalence of those reporting suspiciously priced brands and the number next to it is the odds ratio (the likelihood of using a suspiciously priced brand). So, what the data states is that the likelihood of someone declaring that they were smoking a suspiciously-priced cigarette doubled after the implementation of plain packaging. I wonder why they chose not to mention such a thing? It's almost as if their livelihoods depended on it.
Other tables came to the same conclusion, oddly enough.
As whitewashes go, you've got to admit it's a piss poor one. But this is the best the Australian tobacco control lie machine can muster. As the scale of illegal tobacco in Australia becomes ever more clear to politicians, the media, industry, border agencies, the public and even public health groups, the anti-smoking community are now isolated as the only people who refuse to admit the truth. It's truly desperate stuff.
Next stop Britain when plain packaging is installed in 2016 with our free borders and massed ranks of criminal enterprises just across the Channel. I simply cannot wait to see what balderdash our own tobacco control fantasists will come up with to explain away the predictable carnage. On past performance, it promises to be hilarious.