Thursday 13 January 2011

UK vs Australia: The International 'Keeping Up With The Joneses' Trophy

Our esteemed blog mascot, Philip Davies, yesterday asked a very pertinent question of Health Minister Anne Milton.

Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what evidence he has received on the effects of plain packaging of cigarettes on levels of smoking.
Because, obviously, one would expect nothing less of a government official than to be absolutely certain of success for her policy before committing to draconian regulation which would cost British businesses millions of pounds to implement and, in doing so, take away their trademark and branding goodwill at a stroke.

I mean, if it was just airy-fairy evidence, she would be quite mad to wipe such balance sheet assets from large companies overnight, especially since it would adversely affect pension funds up and down the country. Right?

So her answer is worth scrutinising.

Anne Milton (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Public Health), Health; Guildford, Conservative)

A large number of documents, reports and studies are relevant to the role and effect of packaging in the marketing and promotion of tobacco products.
Relevant, eh? Great start. But what have they concluded?

For example, the RAND Europe study "Assessing the Impacts of Revising the Tobacco Products Directive" commissioned by the European Commission Health and Consumer Directorate-General to support their assessment of the impacts of revising the Tobacco Products Directive 2001/37/EC and published in September 2010, includes a section examining the evidence on the plain or generic packaging of tobacco products.
Indeed it does ... somewhere in its 345 pages, as I've talked about before.

Here is the 'relevant' bit (page 165).

Given that no country has implemented plain packaging to date, no observed data currently exist on the impact of plain packaging on consumer behaviour (European Network for Smoking Prevention, 2009). However, a number of studies have been conducted in this area by means of focus groups, interviews and surveys, with most of these presenting evidence of a reduction in attractiveness of cigarette packs to consumers (See for example: Germain et al., 2009, Grant et al., 2008, Hammond and Parkinson, 2009). A number of these studies (See for example: European Network for Smoking Prevention, 2009, Sambrook Research International, 2009) have been able to provide some evidence, albeit based on perception data, of the potential impacts of plain packaging, suggesting that it may (Sambrook Research International, 2009):

• reduce the attractiveness and identification of the link between tobacco packaging, brands and consumer attractiveness, especially among young people;
• increase in the effect, message recall and credibility of health warnings;
• reduce the false beliefs relating to health risks.
Hmm, interesting 'documents, reports and studies' there.

In order:

- Germain et al - A focus group asking kids questions about what they thought of packaging, and so game-changing that you have to pay to see it.
- Grant et al - Another explosive focus group (or 'conceptual model') ... that we're not allowed to see. Well, it is possible, but "you can only request a copy if you wish to use this work for your own research or private study". Not shouting it from the rooftops, no? Must be totally beyond critique then, eh?
- Hammond and Parkinson - A study on differing pack colours with a bit of unsubstantiated publisher opinion on plain packaging appended.
- European Network for Smoking Prevention - Bwahahahahahahaha ... Co-authored by Martin Dockrell and Deborah Arnott of ASH? Per-lease.
- Sambrook Research International - Interesting one, this, all 157 pages of it. It's an EU report, referenced by an EU report, and is concerned with health warnings and how to make them effective seeing as they have been a total failure. They come to the conclusion that smokers may notice them more if there was nothing else in the way.

Research repeatedly found that adding extra messages does not usually increase packaging viewing time, but instead results in more elements fighting for attention in a ‘zero-sum’ game. Package viewing patterns suggest that the “less is more” axiom is nearly always true.
Well, obviously, and you can get the same great result for 'drink aware' messages if you obliterate wine and beer labels too. But, of course, if the purchaser has no interest whatsoever in your message, it doesn't matter what you do to make it more prominent, does it? That had occurred to you, right? No need to answer that, we can guess.

Nothing there which mandates you to soviet-ise tobacco packaging yet, I'm afraid, Anne. In fact, the EU document appears to blast a great big hole in the very concept.

A critical review of the evidence for the effectiveness of plain packaging was carried out by LEGG on behalf of PMI and published in 2010 (Padilla and Watson, 2010). It reviewed 13 empirical papers and concluded that none of these papers provides evidence that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of generic packaging on reducing the take-up of smoking by young people (Padilla and Watson, 2010p.4). This conclusion is based on the fact that the methodologies of the research papers reviewed by the authors were judged to be flawed due to the general overreliance on focus groups and surveys.
Oh dear.

Anything else up your sleeve, Anne?

Also, the Australian Government have announced their intention to introduce a legislative requirement for the plain packaging of tobacco to commence on 1 January 2012. The evidence supporting their action is summarised in the technical report "Australia: the healthiest country by 2020-Technical report 2 Tobacco Control in Australia".
She's not wrong, you know. The Aussies have most definitely done that. And their reason for doing so (page 2)?

If we act quickly, Australia can overtake the British Government and become the first country in the world to mandate that cigarettes be sold in plain packaging.
That's right. It's a global game of 'keeping up with the Joneses'.

Who cares if there isn't any evidence? It's all about bragging rights and dick-waggling, isn't it. Oh yes it is.

They do reference one highly important work, though. That being ... wait for it ... the UK Department of Health's consultation document. Because, you see, in drafting that consultation, Labour pointed out the research to end all research on the matter. A Canadian study from 1995. No, seriously, it's even type-written and scanned, go look.

After asking kids in Canadian shopping malls if they thought generic packaging would stop them smoking. They were adamant that it would. Well, 5.6% of them, anyway.

Apart from that, they thought it was a crock of shite.

3. They see the uptake process as being unaffected by promotion or packaging, as primarily a matter of being seen as a smoker or not . Peer situations, and parental acceptance or rejection, appear more important in the uptake situation

4. The uptake process has several factors associated with it : peer pressure, expressing individualism, making statements about the self in relation to parents or authority (see McCracken). It is clear that in most first trials there are little package, brand or brand promotion elements . Most kids receive their first cigarette from friends . There is no brand choice - the choice is simply to smoke or not to smoke. Therefore, in the uptake process brand and package are very minor components. This means that changing the package will not have any major effect on the decision(s) to smoke or not to smoke

5. They say plain packaging would not stop kids from starting or stopping - yet there is a universal negative reaction to the plain and ugly packages.
Which agrees conclusively with all the more recent studies. Yes, kids think the packets are ugly. But, tellingly, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that this will deter them from taking up smoking.


Which is quite important considering that deterring kids from starting smoking is the sole aim of the exercise.

So, Anne, you may as well just let the Aussies win the race to shaft their people, businesses, and pensioners I'd say. Lord knows they could do with any victory right now, even if it damages their country and further detracts from the freedom of their citizens.

We can rely on your integrity for that, yes?

The alternative, I suppose, would be to ignore all the above and just pander to the wishes of your bezzie mate Deborah Arnott, who just happens to be one of the authors - highly paid for it too - of the flawed junk science you are referencing in reply to Philip Davies.

Don't the current political class sometimes make you despair?


Smoking Hot said...

Vomit? ... no. Despair? ... yes. Vast majority of my fellow citizens are in a constant state of apathy and until it gets a lot lot worse, things won't have a chance of changing.

We desperately need opposition to the main 3 ... well 2 now. For it to have any hope the opposition needs vast amounts of money. Why? ... because we need a tv channel and in lesser respects a newspaper and radio channel that aren't run by the current political class and their acolytes. Then we may begin to take the current lot to task and maybe, just maybe, wake the country up from it's abject apathy.

Oh, and a leader and figurehead who knows how to speak and deliver a speech.

Whatever happened to all the heroes? :)

Bucko said...

I'm interested. Now that Philip Davis has his answer, will he go back with something similar to what you have just said or will the matter rest?

In fact, will he read this post and make good use of the imformation you have researched?

Dick Puddlecote said...

SH: Yes, I like that ending better. :)

Bucko: Hopefully, I've copied his office in on it. ;)

Bucko said...

Good. I'd hate to think that twaddle response would be the end of the matter.

Chuckles said...

Seems to be about the same level as all the other 'evidence' provided when they wish to do what they know is the 'right' thing.

I'd also note that Oz have, in the past, always been keen to gold-plate the idiocies promulgated in the UK, just as the UK always gold-plates the rubbish emanating from the EU.

Anonymous said...

Yes Australia does follow suit.
For example spending on ECO projects rather than flood defences.
Agenda lobbyist driven policy rather than common sense.

Little Black Sambo said...

Banning advertizing and enforcing plain packaging surely saves the tobacco companies a great deal of money?

Anonymous said...

And makes counterfeiting so much easier.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Excellent research there, Health Minister Dick, it saves the rest of us the bother of establishing that this is all based on no evidence whatsoever. It is a real bugger proving a negative, isn't it?

And, as I like to say: did sales of heroin, cannabis, ecstasy tablets, moonshine etc plummet once dealers, pushers and illicit distillers were forced to sell it in plain packaging and drop brand names?

Dick Puddlecote said...

LBS: Regarding this:

"Banning advertizing and enforcing plain packaging surely saves the tobacco companies a great deal of money?"

The banning of advertising has, indeed, been great for tobacco industry cashflow since the huge sums which inevitably get spent protecting market share aren't a problem anymore.

With packaging, yes, they'd no longer have to pay out as much for designers (presumably) but their packs would have to change to fit in with prescribed rules from government/EU. For this, of course, they would receive no financial help from the state/EU, so would have to finance it themselves. The RAND study talks of this cost, with a rough calculation of what it might be.

Studies on pictorial warnings also almost unanimously state that, to be effective, the pics would have to be changed regularly so they don't become 'stale' (and easily ignorable). So tobacco companies would still be forced to pay out for regular pack re-designs even after implementation of a plain packaging law.

Of course, the studies mentioned in this article generally believe that this is a good thing because it "harms tobacco industry profitability" (not verbatim, but they do say that).

PJH said...

"plain packaging of cigarettes "

Of course, the unintended consequence of this is it makes it even cheaper to produce the product.

Printer: Ink?
BAT: Um, no CYMK ta, just K will do. It'll be on white.

Advertising? Um. Been done.

Profits? Up I reckon

Paid Surveys and Focus Groups said...

Hello Dude,

One concern I have is that as each industry grows, there are many people who try to broaden their market by professing to understand both skill sets. This is often not the reality, and it puts mud in the water for those who do. The thought you have shared really appreciative.

Dr Evil said...

I had to laugh at this. As a child I collected cigarette packets and put them in scrap books. Some were terribly imprsssive, such as Passing Clouds with the cavalier on the box, Black Russian, handsome black box with gold lettering, Senior Service (the blue 100 fag box highly coveted and so on. The packaging made me want to collect the packs not smoke. That came later. the pack counted for nothing. It was the draded number 6 offered as a single fag sans packaging. We smoked because it was forbidden and against school rules. And it became enjoyable. All this will do is stop kids collecting packs. It won't stop the "go on, try one" behind the bike sheds with a naked ciggy.