Plunge in smoking attributed to plain packaging

A dramatic decline in smoking rates has coincided with the introduction of plain-packaging laws.

The daily smoking rate plunged from 15.1 per cent to 12.8 per cent between 2010 and 2013, according to the largest and longest-running national survey on drug statistics.

Most people are now 16 before they smoke their first full cigarette, up from 14 in 2010, and 95 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds have never smoked.

Public health experts say the findings of the National Drugs Strategy Household Survey vindicate plain-packaging laws, which tobacco companies recently claimed to have boosted cigarette sales by leading to a price war.

"It's almost like finding a vaccine that works very well against lung cancer," said Simon Chapman, a professor in public health at the University of Sydney.

"It's that big. This will give enormous momentum to the international push for plain packaging right around the world."

India and France are considering plain packaging laws. Ireland, New Zealand and Britain have legislation before their parliaments.

The survey of nearly 24,000 Australians was conducted between July and December 2013, before the new 12.5 per cent tobacco tax.

"We know that that tax has a lot of influence over consumption so it's really important that the data was collected before that," Professor Chapman said. 

"The only thing that happened in the 12 months before that was the introduction of plain packaging laws."

Geoff Neideck of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, which conducts the survey every two to three years, said the results were continued a longer trend, which has seen smoking rates halved since 1991. 

The plain-packaging laws should be seen in the context of changing attitudes and cultural practices, he said.

Sixteen-year-old Gabe Hutcheon said on Wednesday he had no desire to try smoking.

"My granddad died from it, so I'll go my whole life without smoking," he said. 

"It's expensive, but I don't care about that. All the ads show what it can do."

The price of the the average packet of cigarettes has been in a steep upward trajectory since 2000.

 

Gemma Jones, 16, agreed, although she doubted whether the plain packaging was a deterrent.

"If people want to smoke they will do it," she said. "It's stupid, smells like shit and it kills people."

The president of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health, Mike Daube, said they were the best results he had seen in his 40-year career in health policy.

The National Preventative Health Taskforce in 2009 set a target of 10 per cent adult prevalence by 2018.

" I think we are now going to beat that, and once we’re below 10 per cent I think we will see an even faster decline as smoking essentially becomes an abnormal behaviour," Professor Daube said.

He attributed the figures to effective media campaigns, tax increases and bipartisan political approach to reducing smoking, as well as the plain packaging laws.

"The plain packaging has been a crucial factor in the last two to three years," he said.

- with Eryk Bagshaw

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