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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 ...

Sally Whyte — Political reporter

Sally Whyte

Political reporter

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%![email protected]/Products/3218.0~2012-13~Main+Features~Main+Features?OpenDocument

  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.