The impact of plain packaging for cigarettes

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Since December 2012, under the guidance of the previous Federal Government, plain cigarette packaging has been implemented in an effort to deter smokers from continuing the habit, and potential smokers from picking it up. The plain packaging legislation prevents tobacco companies from branding their products with logos, colours, trademarks and any other visual aid that may promote brand recognition. Instead, all cigarette packs now have standardised packaging that features the name of the brand in a mandated font and size, as well as written and visual health warnings.

Adolescents are trying their first cigarette at a slightly older age, according to ABS data.

New figures, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), show that there was a general decrease in the smoking rate following the introduction of the plain packaging laws. The results from the survey demonstrate a drop from 15.1 per cent in 2010 to 12.8 per cent in 2013i. The survey also found that the age that adolescents had smoked their first cigarette had slightly risen from 15.4 in 2010 to 15.9 in 2013i.

Despite the tobacco companies claim that smoking rates among adults and adolescents have actually experienced an increase since the laws were introducedii, the ABS data coincided with figures from the Commonwealth Treasury, which indicated that tobacco sales fell by 3.4 per cent in 2013 from 2012i.

The tobacco industry claims that smokers are now relying on cheaper alternatives such as hand-rolled cigarettes.

Tobacco companies report a rise in the demand for cheaper cigarettes and 'hand-rolled' cigarettesii . However, new government figures indicate the effectiveness of plain packaging in correlation with various other government and public health initiatives such as smoke-free public spaces and anti-smoking campaigns, among others. In particular, the tobacco excise has also been attributed to declining smoking rates, as the prices of cigarette packs are steadily increasing, making smoking an unaffordable habit for many. The first of four annual 12.5 per cent excise increases was rolled out in September 2013, with the last to be put into effect in September 2016i.

These findings are especially important on a global scale, since Australia has set a worldwide precedent with its introduction of the plain cigarette packaging laws. Other countries such as Ireland and Britain as well as our neighbours in New Zealand and the Cook Islands have been following the example of plain packaging, and are looking to introduce similar lawsiii,iv.

iDepartment of Health 2014, Tobacco key facts and figures, Australian Government, viewed 4 August 2014,

iiMeade, A. 2014, 'Australian Medical Association accuses The Australian of promoting smoking', The Guardian, 18 June, viewed 8 August 2014,

iiiABC 2014, 'World Health Organisation says Pacific considering cigarette plain packaging', 30 June, viewed 4 August 2014,

ivABC 2014, 'Ireland to follow Australia's lead on plain cigarette packaging', 11 June, viewed 4 August 2014,