No name tobacco a disaster waiting to happen

Australia study shows plain packaging of tobacco ineffective

Botswana should learn from Australia which was the first country to implement plain packaging on tobacco products, in a bid to control consumption but with disastrous consequences, as prevalence and overall consumption jumped to record highs.

Australia was the first country to introduce plain packaging of tobacco way back in December 2012. Plain tobacco packaging refers to packaging that requires the removal of all branding (colours, imagery, corporate logos and trademarks), permitting manufacturers to print only the brand name in a mandated size, font and place on the pack, in addition to the health warnings and any other legally mandated information.

Botswana parliament moved and passed the Tobacco Control Bill, which among others calls for plain packaging of tobacco products across board a few months ago, despite an outcry over the bill which comes with sweeping changes. The bill is yet to be signed into law by President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who is also the Patron of the Anti-Tobacco Network Botswana, a World Health Organisation (WHO) sponsored anti-tobacco advocacy forum.

This week, sources with intimate knowledge of the tobacco sector, referred Botswana Guardian to a ground breaking study, done in Australia by Luiss Business School in conjunction with Deloitte Financial Advisory, of which, its main purpose was to analyse the impact of plain packaging on smoking prevalence and tobacco consumption in Australia.  The authors of the report used data taken years after full implementation of plain packaging, that is up to 2017.

From the report, it is evident that, there has been no positive structural changes that has been brought in by the controversial plain packaging, but rather more and more people continue to smoke in high numbers and volumes. “Based on our analyses, it is our opinion that the available data up to December 2017 do not support the effectiveness of Plain Packaging as a policy to reduce smoking prevalence or tobacco consumption and there is some evidence to suggest that Plain Packaging has had a counterproductive effect, resulting in an increase in cigarette consumption rather than a decrease,” states the report which was commissioned by British Tobacco Company.

There are specific figures which shows that Austrialia is failing on getting the intended positive results from implementing plain packaging on tobacco. In fact, the publicly available report shows that, a year after December 2012, average cigarette consumption was 1.374 bln/sticks/month, which is slightly higher than the average cigarette consumption of 1.371 bln/sticks/month in the year before December 2012 (delta equal to 0.2%).

The figures also show that, an average Roll Your Own Tobacco(RYO) consumption of 0.163 bln/sticks/month in the year after December 2012, which is higher than the average RYO consumption in the year before December 2012 at 0.157 bln/sticks/month (delta equal to 3.9%). Figure 4 reports results relative to average total consumption one year before and after December 2012. “One year after the introduction of Plain Packaging, results show an average total consumption of 1.536 bln/sticks/month, which is higher than the average total consumption in the year before the introduction of Plain Packaging of 1.527 bln/sticks/month (delta equal to 0.6%).

“In conclusion, Australia shows an increase in total consumption in the year after the introduction of Plain Packaging, while New Zealand (where Plain Packaging was not implemented) shows a decrease in total consumption in the same period. These results suggest that Plain Packaging has not had any significant impact on reducing total legal tobacco consumption in Australia. As a robustness check, we also extended our analysis to longer observation periods, including two, three, four and five years before and after the introduction of Plain Packaging,” said the authors of the report.

“We can state that the results presented in this report confirm that the data available from Australia up to December 2017 provides no evidence to support the effectiveness of Plain Packaging as a policy to reduce smoking prevalence or tobacco consumption and there is some evidence to suggest that Plain Packaging has had a counterproductive effect, resulting in an increase in cigarette consumption rather than a decrease."

Meanwhile, in a Journal published in September 2020 by Nature Human behavior, under the title: The effectiveness of plain packaging in discouraging tobacco consumption in Australia, authors were able to see a more serious trend of smoking post plain packaging. “In response to the policy, smokers switched from more expensive to cheaper cigarettes and reduced their overall tobacco expenditure and expenditure intensity. However, as smoking became less costly, smokers consumed more cigarettes. To discourage such substitution and to help the policy achieve its intended outcomes, policymakers should consider implementing auxiliary measures, such as taxes or price floors,” said authors David Underwood, Sizhong Sun and Riccardo Welters.

Back home, BAT Botswana has also argued before the health committee of parliament that, plain packaging is not the best option to go with. The company sells over 300 million tobacco sticks annually and its brands constitute about 90 percent of the market. Making their presentation back in July, BAT Botswana, Country Manager John Masala and Head of Legal Affairs, Mdu Lokotfwako explained that, in the case of Australia, plain packaging has not worked as, in fact, youth smoking has jumped by 36 percent.

The above data was sourced from the Australian Federal Government's own National Drug Strategy Household Survey data. Moreover, adult smokers now smoke an average of 11 cigarettes per day. As a result of plain packaging, illegal tobacco has grown to its highest level in years. Illicit trade increased by 30%. This is according to an independent report done by KPMG under the title Illicit Tobacco in Australia’.

Instead of implementing plain packaging and other related tight clauses that come with the Tobacco Control Bill, 2021, "the ministry of Health must introduce more rigorous education campaigns as part of its tobacco control agenda – increasingly, the regulatory burden on tobacco industry cannot be the answer’.  Chairperson of the parliamentary committee on health and HIV, David Tshere does not agree with the proposed changes that call for no branding of tobacco products. “Brands are companies’ property.

This basically means government wants to take away this property without compensation which is against our constitution,” he told Botswana Guardian in a previous interview. In Botswana, the tobacco sector supports 25 000 livelihoods, in addition to millions of Pula collected annually as taxes.