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Essay: Should plain tobacco packaging policies be applied in all nations based on its past success?

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  • Subject area(s): Health essays
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  • Published: 19 November 2022*
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  • Words: 1,893 (approx)
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The use of tobacco products, especially cigarettes, has led to the rise in many diseases. In the United Kingdom itself, smoking has been the largest cause of smoking, nearly 15% of cancer-related cases stemming from it. Apart from the many different types of cancers, smokers have suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma as well as diabetes. This has led to growing concern by many governments as well as many off the global community.

Plain tobacco packaging has been presented as a possible solution. Plain tobacco packaging involves the “standardizing of cigarette” packages by making compulsory the removal of all brand imagery and instead replacing it with government mandated health warnings. In addition to this, the font and logo of the company name may only be put on the box in a standardized font and size allowed by the government.

As the Australian government had implemented this policy in 2012, there have been a growing number of nations who have adopted the same policy thereafter in order to improve public health. However there have been a growing number of doubts related to whether or not these policies have been successful. The perspectives thus considering whether or not plain packaging has been successful pertain to the central debate of whether or not all nations should create policies for plain packaging.

The first perspective to consider is in support of the success of the plain tobacco packaging policy. Crawford Moodie, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Tobacco Control Research, Institute for Social Marketing, University of Stirling, provides arguments in favor of its success.

Moodie’s central argument suggests that the companies who produce these cigarettes misdirect customers from the real risks involved in smoking. He therefore uses the example of Australia in order to reiterate the fact that plain tobacco packaging helps provide a deterrent effect on smoking. In Australia, he has quoted statistical evidence from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), which has helped in reinforcing the benefits plain packaging has had on the general population.

The provenance of the Pharmaceutical Journal makes the article quite sound in its argument. Considering that this site publishes professional opinions after a thorough vetting process, means that the articles are not completely biased nor factually wrong which I believe makes the source worthy of evaluation as a source. The author has provided both the historical background of the issue, followed by an impassioned description of the program implemented in Australia and the statistics or facts, which support his following conclusion, that plain tobacco packaging is having “a number of potential public health benefits”.

Moodie’s argument is structurally sound due to his balance of arguments. He provides statistics for the implementation of plain packaging from the NDSHS that demonstrates the positive impacts of plain packaging. For example, the NDSHS reported that for those aged 14 and older, reports of smoking had fallen (18.1% to 15.8%) and the daily rates of smoking had also fallen from 15.1% to 12.8%. Moodie, however, has also provided counterarguments which may arise due to the fact that these statistics may not have necessarily only changed as a result of plain tobacco packaging. He is able to critique his own sources, which serves as a strength as he acknowledges limitations to his own sources and thus provides a balance in his arguments and also acts as consideration for the counterargument.

Following this line of assessment, the article also is devoid of any pathos in its language as the author takes on an impassioned tone when relating the facts and statistics relating to plain tobacco packaging. Much like a scientific report, Moodie first presents a hypothetical statement that “standardizing pack appearance by introducing laws that enforce plain tobacco packaging may contribute to a reduction in smoking rates and improve public health” which he then methodically goes onto proving through a well balanced and intuitive introspection into the impact of the plain packaging policy in Australia. His conclusion is thus also well supported by cited case studies that work in favor of his central argument that plain packaging has had a positive impact in reducing the number of smokers.

However, there are a few flaws to this article. Moodie himself has noted that the case examples he has provided from the NDSHS are subject to other driving forces other than plain packaging, which may have lead to these favorable outcomes, such as the mass-media campaign that was used alongside the implementation of this policy. Similarly, his article borders on a report rather then an opinionated piece, as it relates the history of the plain tobacco packaging policy rather than focusing solely on the benefits it has yielded.

I have also considered the counter perspective made by Professor Kip Viscusi, a distinguished American economist who currently is the University Distinguished Professor of Law, Economics and Management at Vanderbilt Law School.

He has authored an analytical research report on Roy Morgan’s research data through which he has concluded that plain packaging has had “zero effect on smoking prevalence rates in Australia”. Although in report form, much like Moodie, Viscusi has also provided statistics from studies conducted by Roy Morgan, Australia’s leading Consumer, Industry and Market Research Company , as well as multiple other sources such as the Australian National Plain Packaging Tracking Survey (NTPPTS) and the Cancer Institute New South Wales (NSW).

His report, I believe, is made stronger through the acknowledgement of counterarguments and the effective way in which he refutes them. One example of such as case in his report is that of the “2012 Packaging Changes” (a term which he uses to refer to the changes made due to introduction of Plain packaging as well as enlarged graphic health warnings on the packs) . Here, he has acknowledged that Roy Morgan’s research data found a decline in smoking prevalence rates in Australia. However, he has also effectively inserted the discussion of other economic trends such as that of the Consumer Price Index and that of the rising prices of cigarettes rather than just attributing it to the 2012 Packaging Changes. He has backed up his data thoroughly by using statistics such as the Craven 20 cigarettes trajectory from 2001 to 2016 to prove his point about the rising prices of cigarettes that may have also played a large role in affecting the falling rates of the prevalence of smoking.

The main strength of his arguments comes from his detailed explanation of the statistics he has used along with the mention that he has used four years worth of data from Roy Morgan’s report in order to illustrate his central argument. He has also gone onto to reinforce the fact that other sources showing positive data towards the counter argument such as those of Dr.Chipty and, Diethelm and Farley, have merely made unsubstantiated correlations without acknowledging other trends in the region such as Viscusi himself has done.

However, Viscusi’s report may be weak in regard to the fact that his basis attaches “zero” success to the 2012 Packaging Changes, or the plain tobacco packaging policy. His assumption in trying to relate all changes to economic forces rather than lending some of the change to plain packaging serves as a weakness rather than a strength. Data from other studies- that Viscusi has failed to mention altogether- such as from the North East Illegal Tobacco Survey conducted in the UK, looks specifically consumer reactions to plain packaging. They noted that 29% thought about quitting and nearly 60% found that the packs looked less attractive. In addition to this nearly 51% noticed health warnings more. From these numbers, it is not impossible to assume that the prevalence of smoking could have fallen in recent years due to plain packaging as clearly people’s perceptions have changed after its introduction. Studies like these thus, could serve to undermine Viscusi’s conclusion.

Before I choose either side of the debate, I have to consider the currency in time of Moodie’s article to Viscusi’s report. Having been published in 2015 compared to the publishing of the report in 2018, it is likely that at first glance it may seem as if Moodie’s judgment may be outdated. However, as indicated by the different studies each author used, the currency of the pieces do not severely impact the strength of either argument. Both also apply mainly to Australia, as Australia is the first nation to have introduced plain packaging. Since Moodie had published his article in 2015, when only Australia had introduced plain packaging. However, Viscusi should have also considered the United Kingdom and France (which have implemented the plain packaging policy in full in 2017) as well in order to help strengthen his argument and make it more applicable as a failure globally.

Thus, after so much evaluation, I believe that Viscusi’s argument that plain packaging has had no effect on the prevalence of smoking is more viable than that of Moodie’s. Even though one might assume I made this choice based on the fact that the report contained better evaluation than Moodie’s article, my choice is actually based on outside material as well. Instead of just focusing on Australia, as both these pieces have done, I have looked into the case of France as well.

According to the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction , the success of the implementation of plain packaging in 2017 showed that the program was ineffective as it only reduced cigarette sales by 0.7% rather than 29%, as was intended by the introduction of this policy. In addition to this, sales may have also been influenced by rise of the prices of cigarettes. In an interview in the Assemblée Nationale, the president of France acknowledged that the plain packaging policy failed as they used increased taxes instead to hit the intended target of lowered smoking rates.

Thus based on the failure of this program in France as well, I am more inclined to believe that Viscusi was right in his conclusion.

However, as both authors are sound in their expertise and have used facts to substantiate their opinion and not the other way around, I believe that both views have quite a sound basis. Although, I must also acknowledge that I am not in a position to really make a judgment. My research is limited to what has been included in this essay and there is much more data out there which I have yet to come across. In addition to this, the issue on plain packaging is limited to evidence from Australia in 2012 to only UK and France in 2016. Plain packaging is yet to be implemented in other nations as well.

Thus, the lens through which I am able to view the issue is limited both globally as well as statistically. Only time will tell whether or not plain packaging can be used globally to reduce the prevalence of smoking. A complex interplay of economics, politics, and social stigma as well as public policy influence the prevalence of smoking, thus making it hard to tell whether or not plain packaging is having its desired effect. On this note, I thus believe that plain packaging may not serve as a viable solution for this global issue and should not be enforced in every nation, although, in the future, this may change according to he global adoption of this public policy and may vary in its effects in each and every nation.


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