A study published by Tobacco Control provides evidence that the introduction of standardized tobacco packaging in Australia has not increased significantly the consumption of illicit tobacco products.
The study, which was carried out by researchers at the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer (CBRC), Cancer Council Victoria, seems to paint a different picture to that painted by a report prepared by KPMG for Philip Morris, British American Tobacco Australia and Imperial Tobacco Australia. That report indicated illicit tobacco products represented a record 14.5 percent of total consumption in 2014.
A story on the KPMG report by Roman Kennedy for The Australian quoted Phillip Morris managing director John Gledhill as saying that the growth in illicit tobacco consumption came during a period that saw two 12.5 percent tobacco excise increases and the implementation of standardized tobacco packaging in December 2012.
The CBRC researchers, led by Dr. Michelle Scollo, set out to assess whether following standardization of tobacco packaging in Australia, smokers were, as predicted by the tobacco industry, more likely to use illicit tobacco.
They carried out cross-sectional telephone surveys continuously from April 2012 (six months before the implementation of standardized packaging [SP]) to March 2014 (15 months after) and used responses from current cigarette smokers. Changes between pre-SP, the transition to SP and SP phases were examined using logistic regression models.
Among those whose factory-made cigarettes were purchased in Australia; compared with pre-SP, there were said to be no significant increases in the SP phase in the use of: ‘cheap whites’, international brands purchased for 20 percent or more below the recommended retail price, or packs purchased from informal sellers.
The prevalence of any use of unbranded illicit tobacco was said to have remained at about 3 percent.
The researchers concluded that while they were unable to quantify the total extent of the use of illicit manufactured cigarettes; they found, in what they described as their large national survey, no evidence of increased use of two categories of manufactured cigarettes likely to be contraband, no increase in purchases from informal sellers and no increased use of unbranded illicit ‘chop-chop’ tobacco.