The tobacco lobby lost its High Court fight to defeat the federal government’s plain packaging laws this morning. But not for want of trying.
Big tobacco threw everything it had at this, from debunked arguments over the burden on retailers to claims of a rise in black market trade. It was the latter’s “serious unintended consequences” British American Tobacco went with in its statement today:
“The illegal cigarette black market will grow further when all packs look the same and are easier to copy. Plain packaging will also put pressure on the industry to reduce legal tobacco prices.”
BAT cites the fact the “cheap” price segment in the legal cigarette market grew 63% since the last 25% tobacco excise was implemented in 2010. It’s an apples-and-oranges argument without very much foundation; it’s a lot of smoky spin from a lot of angles.
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But this is frontier stuff. The government doesn’t really know whether the intended consequences — breaking addiction by making the product less attractive — will come to pass. No other country has tried this, so there’s no research to suggest it will work.
It may not.
What the High Court effectively said today was governments are allowed to take a punt on saving lives at the expense of commercial interests. That evidence-based policymaking is not always possible. Bold reform — a true revelation in current-day politics — requires a leap of faith. And that certainly sounds like it’s worth a shot.
And the only thing we have to lose is cigarette company shareholder value.