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Jun 6, 2014

Oz exclusive: Big Tobacco-funded research hates plain packaging

Christian Kerr has insisted that plain packaging is not curbing Australians' cigarette habit in this morning's Australian. Where do the numbers come from? It's there that things get interesting ...


Plain packaging has failed, according to The Australian‘s front-page exclusive this morning, but what is the evidence for the so-called failure, and who found and paid for the data?

Reporter Christian Kerr pins his argument that Labor’s “nanny state” legislation has “backfired” on a minute figure — a rise in the sale of individual cigarettes by 0.3% or 59 million cigarettes in 2013 as compared with 2012. Australians smoke 21 billion cigarettes annually, including individual smokes and their “roll your own” equivalents, and the Oz cites the industry figures, editorialising that “it is no surprise 59 million additional cigarettes were sold in Australia last year”.

The number is based on research by InfoView, a company that collates data supplied by industry players for their own use. Its website advertises a “statistical services unit” that “acts as an independent data bank or ‘black box’ for a large number of organisations who agree to contribute their industry or product market and sales data for aggregated reporting purposes”. The purpose of this type of research is for companies to monitor their products and the market as a whole without having to show their hands to competitors.

And who, exactly, is InfoView? As it turns out, the research is funded by Big Tobacco. When Crikey called InfoView to ask about the research, we were told InfoView would not make any comment and any inquiries about the research should go to Scott McIntyre, spokesman for British American Tobacco, a multinational tobacco company. McIntyre says the data comes from numbers provided by the industry to Sir Cyril Chantler, who is leading the British review into the possibility of plain packaging in the UK.

McIntyre confirms that British American Tobacco pays InfoView to collate the information. “Just like any company with fast-moving goods, we keep an eye on the market. It’s mainly something we use to keep an eye on the industry.”

With more than 40% of the market share, BAT is one of just a few industry players contributing funding to the research. InfoView’s statistical services unit was established in the 1990s by PricewaterhouseCoopers, and its website boasts “[its statistical services unit] was the trusted databank for PwC client’s sales and production statistics for over 20 years”.

PwC has previously done research for British American Tobacco, publishing a report in 2010 on rates of illegal tobacco, which Crikey‘s health blog Croakey found had “more holes than a slab of Swiss cheese”.

When plain packaging cigarette legislation was introduced to Parliament, then-health minister Nicola Roxon said it was a preventative health measure. “We’re targeting people who have not yet started, and that’s the key to this plain packaging announcement — to make sure we make it less attractive for people to experiment with tobacco in the first place.”

The legislation has been in place since December 2012, and Stephen Koukoulas writes this morning that consumption of cigarettes by household is down, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data released in the National Accounts this week, although there isn’t current data on the percentage of the population who smoke.

Kerr quotes New South Wales and South Australian government figures on the rate of smoking in the population, but no data on the rate of new smokers taking up the habit.

When asked if BAT researches how many people are taking up smoking, McIntyre said it did not monitor numbers of new smokers or smokers under the age of 18.

A study published in the journal BMJ Open last year found that plain packaging “is associated with lower smoking appeal, more support for the policy and more urgency to quit among adult smokers”.


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24 thoughts on “Oz exclusive: Big Tobacco-funded research hates plain packaging

  1. The Pav

    Why is The Australian telling lies to the detriment of the health of Australians?

    Perhaps it should change its title to The Anti-Australian.

    They are betraying the nation

  2. Steve777

    How do we know plain packaging works? Big Tobacco hates it.

    I wonder when the Abbott Government will reverse its support for plain packaging?

  3. iOz

    It might be worth noting, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, that the population of Australia was 22,785,500 in September 2012, and 23,235,800 in September 2013, and increase of 1.02%. If cigarette “sales” have gone up 0.3%, then the rate of consumption per head of population is actually dropping.

  4. Michael

    The ABS says our population increased by 1.8% in y/e June 2013. At that rate, a 0.3% increase in absolute sales would suggest a fall in average consumption. If the only change in that period is plain packaging, not sure how it is a ‘failure’.

  5. Michael

    Great minds and all that, iOz…

  6. Wexford

    Damn, iOz, I came to the comments to specifically post what you just did. Except ABS actually shows that the population increase from June 2012 to June 2013 was in fact 1.8%!

  7. The Pav


    The Oz maths capacity explains their support of Hockey.

    Simple arithmetic is beyond him as well

  8. Ian Roberts

    I don’t understand why anybody shells out money to read Murdoch’s drivel and lies – a manifestation of Stockholm Syndrome perhaps.

  9. Electric Lardyland

    Does a newspaper that seems to have virtually no connection to reality, still deserve to be called a newspaper? And is there a correct term for such a beast?
    I mean, increasingly, it’s only function seems to be to pander to arrogant ideologues, who think that the ability to unthinkingly regurgitate partisan and inaccurate confections, is somehow a sign of superior intellect.

  10. blindphoton

    Once again the government’s cheer-squad shows it complete disdain for facts in another desperate attempt to get the budget off the front pages.

    It’s the overall smoking rate and rate of recruitment of new smokers thats important, and both continue to decline.

    Kerr and his libertarian ilk are as disgusting as the budget – it’s wonderful that this crummy rag is in decline.

  11. Bill Hilliger

    If plain packaging has failed, then the tobacco companies have nothing to worry about. Furthermore think of the savings …by not having to use different colours of ink, design, etc. on each packet of cigarettes. Savings = more profits and happy shareholders. As plain packaging has increased sales, tobacco companies will fight any attempt to remove plain packaging.

  12. AR

    IF (and it’s a bloody big IF)as BAT claims smoking has gone up/not declined then surely they are happy?
    As they demonstrably, and vociferously, are NOT happy, else they’d be shtumm, then it is clear that plain packagin works.
    And, despite Cameroon’s BATman’s best efforts, the UK is certain to follow suite.

  13. Luke Hellboy

    Yet another pathetic use of ‘maths’and ‘facts’ from that pathetic trash rag. Once upon a time I used to buy the Oz, but my budgie died and I no longer need anything to line its cage with.

  14. fractious

    @ Michael, iOz – even if you ignore the increasing population, 0.3% over one period isn’t statistically significant anyway, which I’m sure The Oz would’ve pointed out Shirley….

  15. Kevin_T

    QUOTE: “The number is based on research by InfoView, a company that collates data supplied by industry players for their own use. Its website advertises a “statistical services unit” that “acts as an independent data bank or ‘black box’ for a large number of organisations who agree to contribute their industry or product market and sales data for aggregated reporting purposes”. The purpose of this type of research is for companies to monitor their products and the market as a whole without having to show their hands to competitors.

    So would it be fair to assume those figures are not actually audited in any way, and that if a contributor wanted to manipulate the figures for any purpose, they would be able to?

  16. pinkocommierat

    Nobody reads that rag anyway.

  17. JohnB

    Electric Lardyland:

    The phrase that you are after is “sh_t sheet”.

  18. CML

    I hate smoking and the Oz as much as those above, but let’s have a bit of reality here.
    If curing the addiction to nicotine was as easy as ‘plain packaging’, then are you all suggesting if we put cannabis, heroin, alcohol etc. etc. in said plain packaging, nobody would use these drugs? That is patently absurd!
    Why? Because ALL drugs of this nature expose their recipients to the danger of addiction. When that happens, people have a HEALTH problem. Not a bloody social choice!!
    And why try to ban e-cigs, which has been discussed in the media? They are far less harmful than tobacco, and in some cases, the ONLY way addicted people have been able to give up smoking cigarettes. That makes no sense either.

  19. Paddlefoot

    Big Tobacco have form – so much form .. they practically invented the Big Lie. I know the Right are angry about science and logic and all that but really. I guess lobbyists must also pay school fees but imagine if divine judgment does exist.

  20. michelle thornton

    Thank you for telling the truth, I heard the story on ABC radio and couldn’t understand the supposed rise in use. NOW I get it!

  21. The Pav

    Kevin T @15

    Untested data only partially released produced for a special interest group is always dodgy.

    This is why is is perfectly acceptable for the Oz.

  22. Penelope Milstein

    Nicola Roxon nailed it: ”We’re targeting people who have not yet started”

  23. mikeb

    I’m not a smoker but was told by one that buying habits have moved towards cheaper boxes with more ciggies in them at smaller individual volume. In other words, more but smaller cigs. If that’s true then this statistic is indeed a damned distortion of the facts.

  24. seriously?

    CML – I don’t think anyone ever said plain packaging would CURE the addiction – but it would be a deterrence to starting smoking along with other measures. And I would expect, at the margin, similar measures with alcoholic drinks would have the same impact. I mean, it would be much harder to market and sell alcohol if it was in a cack-coloured container.

    Anyway, I take my cue from the reaction of the tobacco companies to figure out if it is working. If they are still fighting it, and lobbying hard against it in other countries contemplating it THEN YOU KNOW IT IS EFFECTIVE.


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