Monday 22 February 2016

The 'Success' That Dare Not Speak Its Name

In Australia, the spin to pretend that plain packaging wasn't an unmitigated failure continues, and the post-implementation squirming is hilarious to watch.

Via Catallaxy Files, it seems that the Aussie government is struggling with a simple question as to whether plain packaging achieved what the government said it would. That being to reduce tobacco consumption and improve public health.

Tobacco controllers the world over have rejoiced in its genius, with some even going so far as to call plain packaging a vaccine against lung cancer! Therefore, the answer to the question as to whether it has achieved it goals would be a one word 'yes', surely?

Apparently not.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Put that on notice as well, if you can, to please provide it. Your department’s website says that the key findings of the survey were that the objectives of tobacco plain packaging were achieved. Given that is a departmental website—we are not referring to Professor Wakefield’s here—can you tell me: was there a key finding from the survey that plain packaging improved public health?

Ms Davies: The language on the website reflects the broad findings in the BMJ articles published on 19 March last year. They were referencing the proximal objectives as they are referred to in those articles. I think the department ordinarily now refers to them as the mechanisms, which are found in section 3(2) of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act under the objects of the act.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Yes, that is why I am asking the questions. Was there a key finding that plain packaging improved public health? That is one of the objectives.
Ms Davies: The tracking survey and the BMJ articles that relate to the tracking survey were not designed to measure prevalence and cannot measure prevalence.
Senator LEYONHJELM: So it did not measure whether there was increased giving up of smoking?
Ms Davies: As I said, the design of the tracking survey and the articles in the BMJ that discuss it largely related to the section 3(2) mechanisms—so reducing the appeal of the packet, increasing the effectiveness of graphic health warnings and minimising the pack’s ability to mislead. In the long term, those three mechanisms work to reduce prevalence.
Senator LEYONHJELM: How do you know? The post-implementation review is intended to determine whether the objectives of the legislation are being achieved.
Ms Davies: That is correct, and the post-implementation review looks at evidence that goes to both section 3(1), which is the broader public health objectives that you are speaking of—the longer term ones—and also the mechanisms by which those objectives are intended to be achieved, which are the proximal objectives.
Senator LEYONHJELM: The objects of the act are to improve public health, so if we cannot tell from the survey that the introduction of plain packaging improved public health then we have not established whether the act is doing what it is intended to do.
Oh come on now, it's not a difficult question. Did it or did it not achieve its stated objectives? For all the triumphalism over plain packaging emanating from the tobacco control industry, it should be a slam dunk!

Yet it would appear that politicians are desperate to avoid going on record confirming its success. Now why do you think that would be, eh? Speaks volumes, does it not?

Well, we already know that the Aussie government knew it wouldn't be able to answer this pretty vital question. It was quite clear to them a while ago that plain packaging was a failure which is why they indulged in some undemocratic gerrymandering of the 'evidence'.
Australia is in the process of conducting a post-implementation review into plain packaging. If this evidence is not front and centre, we will know that the process is a sham. Predictably enough, it seems that the post-implementation review has already shifted the goalposts. The policy was explicitly designed to reduce cigarette sales and smoking prevalence. Since it is now clear that it has had no measurable effect on either, the review will instead look at whether it has reduced the appeal of cigarette packs. That means looking at the same tenuous evidence that was cited by campaigners in 2011 - evidence that tells us nothing about the real world effects.
In short, they don't want to find out if it works because they know it doesn't.

Even funnier is the Aussie government's desperate wriggling to pretend that world class anti-smoking professional Melanie Wakefield is somehow an impartial 'scientist' after they handed huge anti-smoking campaigners Cancer Council Victoria $3m to 'study' the success of plain packaging.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Was Professor Wakefield a prior advocate of plain packaging?
Dr Studdert: Professor Wakefield has been involved in a wide range of tobacco related research over many years. I do not think it would be fair to say that she is an advocate. I think she is a researcher who has done a broad range of research in a range of areas related to tobacco control.
Senator LEYONHJELM: I am aware she has done a lot of research in this area, but my question is: has she been a prior advocate of plain packaging?
Dr Studdert: As I said, I do not think we would categorise her as an advocate. She has been a researcher for many years in a range of fields related to tobacco control.
Senator LEYONHJELM: So you are saying no, she is not an advocate, yes, she is, or you do not know?
Dr Studdert: Those are not the terms of our engagement with her over many years in relation to tobacco research.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Yes, I know, but you have done a lot of work with her and she has done a lot of work with you. Are you saying you do not know what her views are?
Mr Bowles: I think that what was said is that she has worked in the field of tobacco control for a long period of time.
Senator LEYONHJELM: I heard that, Mr Bowles. I am still interested in the answer: do you believe she has been an advocate of plain packaging?
Dr Studdert: I think she has been an advocate for supporting the evidence base for good policy measures. Yes, I think many—
Senator LEYONHJELM: Would she consider good policy to be plain packaging?
Dr Studdert: I would say yes, because she has done a lot of research in this area and knows the evidence base that supports that policy.
Mr Bowles: That said, it is probably a question best asked of her.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Yes. It is inconceivable given the longstanding relationship between the department and Professor Wakefield that you do not know what her views are.
Mr Bowles: No-one said the views were not known. She is a long-term researcher in tobacco control, so there will be elements of plain packaging, as there will be other elements of tobacco control. I just make the point that we cannot really talk on her behalf about some of her beliefs and all those sorts of issues.
Let's make this clear. If plain packs resulted in the complete destruction of retail trade in Australia and fire shot out of the arse of every smoker who consumed a cigarette from a plain packaged box, Melanie Wakefield would still say it had been a massive success. That's how impartial she is.

Can you imagine the screaming if governments gave BAT or Imperial Tobacco a wad of cash to assess the effectiveness of a policy? Christ, you'd never hear the end of it, but this is tobacco control we're talking about, they're allowed free reign to be as blatantly biased as they like. Governments will just pretend they are impartial. Except when asked to put their faith in impartiality on public record ... at which point they run away because they know very well they'd be lying.

So this is the monumental 'success' of plain packaging. Something politicians shy away from declaring in public, and spouted by professional lobbyists who politicians are scared of admitting are fatally compromised by conflicts of interest.

And they say the tobacco industry is corrupt? Good grief!

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