Holyrood health department is a year out in Australian standardised packs argument. Trade body says survey shows smoking rising.
TOBACCO firms and trade bodies have criticised claims by the Scottish Government that the introduction of standardised tobacco packaging has resulted in plunging smoking rates in Australia.
Last month the Scottish Government issued a press release highlighting figures from a survey by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare which Holyrood claimed showed a “significant drop” in Australian smoking rates since plain packaging was introduced.
The Scottish Government said figures showed the proportion of the population who are daily smokers had decreased from 15.1% to 12.8% between 2010 and 2013.
But critics said the Scottish health department got several things wrong including saying plain packs were introduced in Australia in 2011 when in fact they became legally required only in late 2012.
The Scottish Grocers’ Federation said the general long-term decline in Australian smoking rates cannot be attributed to tobacco plain packaging as tobacco products were also available in traditional branded packaging for over two-thirds of the period cited.
And in the survey itself respondents were not asked about plain packaging, it added.
Scottish Grocers’ Federation chief executive John Drummond said: “It is particularly galling that the Scottish Government have been so careless for a policy they remain committed to. It simply beggars belief that for a measure as serious as plain packaging – which will have damaging repercussions for small retailers up and down the country – that the Scottish Government appear not to know when plain packaging was introduced in Australia. We sincerely hope this error is not symptomatic of a wider cavalier approach to the issue of plain packaging.
“The Australasian Association of Convenience Stores’ State of the Industry Report 2013 shows that tobacco sales have actually increased by 5.4% since plain packaging was introduced. Rather than stopping smoking consumers in Australia are purchasing cheaper alternatives or switching to branded packs available on the illicit market.
“Retailers remain very concerned about the unintended consequences of this policy, particularly in relation to the illicit trade, and will not be reassured by the Scottish Government’s inaccurate use of statistics,” Drummond said.
Colin Wragg, Imperial Tobacco’s head of UK corporate and legal affairs, also criticised the Holyrood claims. He said: “For a start the Scottish Government has got it wrong, plain packaging was introduced in 2012 not December 2011.
“Contrary to the Scottish Government’s interpretation of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures, the market has not seen a volume decline since the introduction of plain packaging. In fact, legal tobacco sales are up 59m sticks in 2013 compared to 2012, a volume increase for the first time in over a decade.
“Plain packaging will seriously dent UK retailers’ bottom line through increased staff training costs, losing business to the illicit market, and product and consumer frustration.”