Q: What is plain packaging?
A: So-called plain packaging isn’t ‘plain’ at all. It turns tobacco packs into uniform, drab, brown-green packs and bans all the familiar branding and colours that customers recognize and get quality assurance from. It’s in fact a branding ban that makes it very difficult for customers to recognize or choose the brands they prefer. Besides, graphic images and health warnings already take up 75% of the front and back of packs.
Q: Why is the Canadian government pushing for plain packaging on tobacco?
A: At first glance plain packaging might sound like a viable course for any government, but when you take a step back and look at the measure and the consequences it simply isn’t that easy.
Graphic health warnings already take up 75 percent of the pack and smokers are very aware of the risks. Anti-tobacco lobbyists have been urging the federal government to do this for some time.
People don’t start smoking because of packaging and so changing the look of the pack won’t make a difference.
There is no reliable evidence to support that a branding ban would either further reduce smoking, and there is sound evidence that it could make the problem of youth smoking worse.
In Australia, the first country to have tried plain packaging, the Government’s own data shows that it has not further cut smoking rates either by adults or the under-age. Smoking rates were already going down. In fact, illegal sales in Australia went up by 21% after the branding ban and the Australian government reported that 17,000 more 12-17 year olds started smoking daily. This is likely linked to the boost that plain packaging gave to the criminals who sell illegal cigarettes to minors. Canada already has a huge illegal tobacco problem and plain packaging would make it worse.
Q: The Government says tobacco packaging is a ‘promotional tool’ and that plain packaging can reduce the appeal of tobacco. So isn’t it a good way to put people off smoking?
A: Branded packs do not advertise smoking. They distinguish brands and their characteristics from each other. This is only relevant to existing tobacco consumers, and meaningless to people who don’t smoke. The decision to smoke or not is influenced by many well-documented factors, such as parental influence, peer behaviour and attitudes to risk, and not by packaging.
Studies that support plain packaging frequently conclude that respondents say they find plain packaging less appealing than branded packaging. But the question is not what people believe they would do – if faced with the choice between a standardized and non-standardized pack in a study – but whether their behaviour actually changes.
The data from Australia, the only country to have actually tried plain packaging for almost four years, shows that the ban on branded tobacco packaging has not further reduced smoking rates either by adults or minors.
Q: Even if plain packaging is not as effective in reducing the number of smokers as claimed, isn’t it worth trying?
A: It’s not worth trying something that has failed elsewhere, that will not further reduce smoking rates, and can cause real damage in boosting illegal trade.
Q: If there’s no plain packaging, how can under-age smoking be reduced?
A: The government should consider other measures that could be effective, such as making it hard for minors to get hold of cigarettes. Practical methods that could work include penalizing retailers who sell tobacco to children, penalizing adults who buy tobacco for children, and strong retail programs. These programs are already working well in Canada and many other countries. It’s also vital to stamp down on the criminals who traffic tobacco to children – perversely, a branding ban would give the illegal trade a huge boost.
Q: Where else has plain packaging been introduced and enforced?
A: Australia was the first country to bring in a branding ban nearly four years ago and was the only one until very recently. Only two other countries – France and the UK – have started implementing the measure. Ireland adopted the legislation but hasn’t introduced it yet. Many countries have serious reservations about it.
Q: Was plain packaging successful where it was introduced?
A: No. Australia is the only country to have fully tried a branding ban, since December 2012, and it has been unable to find any evidence of success. The Australian Government’s own data shows that the ban has not further cut smoking rates either by adults or minors. After the ban, the Australian data showed that it had no impact on the overall size of the cigarette market and that in four out of five states, smoking prevalence actually increased. In fact, 17,000 more 12-17 year olds in Australia started smoking daily, and illegal tobacco sales went up by 21%.
Q: If plain packaging has been considered or introduced in other countries such as Australia, the UK and France, shouldn’t Canada follow suit?
A: Why should Canada follow any country, especially if the only solid experience so far has been failure? Canada is big enough and smart enough to decide what’s best for its own citizens, and to learn from the mistakes of others. Research in Canada has also found that a majority of Canadians don’t think plain packaging is necessary or a good use of government resources, and that more than 70% of Canadians think that plain packaging would not reduce smoking rates.
Q: What are the positive effects of plain packaging? For example, does it reduce smoking?
A: ‘Plain packaging’ is not an effective health policy in any recognizable sense. It does not inform or educate tobacco consumers; instead, it limits information, restricts choice, patronizes adult smokers, harms the business of small retailers and boosts the illegal tobacco trade.
It’s impossible to find any credible positive effects. Australia is the only country with experience of a branding ban, which it introduced in 2012. The Australian Government’s own data shows that the ban has not cut smoking rates either by adults or the under-age. In 2013, after the ban, the Australian data showed that it had no impact on the overall size of the cigarette market and that in four out of five states smoking prevalence actually increased. In fact, 17,000 more 12-17 year olds in Australia started smoking daily, and illegal tobacco sales went up by 21%.
Q: What are the negative effects of plain packaging?
A: One negative effect is that ‘plain packaging’ patronizes adult smokers. Branding enables adult consumers to choose the products they prefer, and also provides a quality standard and a guarantee that the manufacturer stands behind the product. Banning branding removes that quality standard, and suggests that adult smokers’ choices don’t matter, or that they are unable to make choices for themselves. Tobacco packs already carry graphic images and warnings that covering 75% of the front and back of every legal pack; branding bans go even further, leaving almost nothing on the packs except these images. A branding ban is not a proven or effective health policy in any recognizable sense. It neither informs nor educates. On the contrary, it limits information, restricts choice and patronizes smokers.
Another hugely negative effect is the boost to the illegal trade. Illegal tobacco already takes up 20% of the Canadian market and the RCMP say it helps fund more than 175 criminal groups in Canada. A branding ban would be an open invitation to crime syndicates to ‘up their game’. Criminals would make illegal cigarettes even more readily available to children, would rob the Government of even more tax revenue (estimated at almost $2 billion per year), and would get an even bigger windfall to fund other crimes, including gun smuggling and human trafficking.
A ban is also damaging to small local retailers. Tobacco sales are vital to their turnover and foot traffic. In Australia – the first country to try a branding ban – small, family-run businesses were hit hard as customers turned to cheaper products, including illegal tobacco. An Australian survey conducted in 2013 found that two thirds of small retailers did not feel the Government considered the needs of small businesses at all in tobacco regulation, and two thirds now felt less favourable to the Government because of the branding ban.
Q: How does plain packaging boost the illegal tobacco trade?
A: So-called ‘plain’ packs are easier to counterfeit, as they are stripped of the design features that make proper branded packs unique and difficult to fake, such as logos, embossing and special inks. Making legal packs indistinguishable from each other makes counterfeiters’ job much easier and cheaper. It also helps criminals who sell cheap illegal packs with fake forms of ‘branding’, those who smuggle cheaper legitimate products from other countries where taxation is lower, or those who sell loose illegal tobacco in bags. All of these illegal cigarettes are sold on the streets at one tenth the price by criminals who don’t ask for ID, and so are readily available to minors
Q: As 75% of tobacco packages are already covered by health warnings, why does it matter what the remaining 25% looks like?
A: Removing the only space left for consumers to distinguish their preferred brand from others treats them with contempt, makes stock management and service very difficult for retailers and boosts the illegal trade. It doesn’t reduce smoking rates, nor prevent minors from smoking. Legal companies like ours invest in packaging design and quality to compete with other tobacco products that adult consumers can choose. Adult consumers are entitled to be treated fairly, and have the right to choose the products they prefer.
Q: Does plain packaging refer only to cigarette boxes, or is it expected to expand to other products?
A: Margaret Chan, Director General of the WHO, said in 2013: “It is not just Big Tobacco anymore. Public health must also contend with Big Food, Big Soda, and Big Alcohol.” So we have reason to believe that non-elected officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) are putting pressure on governments to spread similar restrictions to other products such as alcohol, soft drinks and food. The Canadian government has committed to restricting the marketing of “unhealthy” food and beverages, restricting certain ingredients and implementing new labelling requirements.
Q: Is plain packaging a cost-neutral regulation?
A: The Government has said it will publish a “Regulatory Impact Assessment Statement” in due course along with proposed regulations. It remains to be seen whether this will include a thorough and objective cost-benefit analysis of banning tobacco branding, including the costs to the Canadian economy caused by illegal trade and tax evasion. It should also consider – in the light of sound evidence – how effective a ban might be in achieving its aim to reduce smoking rates. After Australia implemented this policy, illegal sales rose by 21%. If the same thing happens in Canada, we will lose an additional $330 million for a total of almost $2 billion every year.
Q: When was the public consultation process announced?
A: The consultation was opened on Health Canada’s website (www.canada.ca/Health) on May 31, and closed on August 31, 2016.
Q: Who was invited and who took part in the public consultation?
A: Health Canada said it was looking for comments from the general public and other interested parties, such as ‘partners’, ‘stakeholders’ and ‘health professionals and associations’. Even before the consultation began, the health minister announced that “there is no question about whether we’re going to proceed with plain packaging regulations” – seemingly undermining the point of a public consultation. She also said she will discount the tobacco industry’s views in the consultation but will listen to special interest groups. From the start, the process looked more like a foregone conclusion rather than an open-minded and objective consideration required of good public policy.
Q: How many Canadians took part in the public consultation?
A: The Health Department has said it will post a ‘summary of the results’ of the consultation online. But it does not seem likely that many Canadians will have responded as recent research found that 91% of Canadians didn’t understand or hadn’t heard about the consultation.
Q: How can I contribute to the public consultation process?
A: It’s now too late to respond. The consultation closed on August 31, 2016. You can let your views known to your local MP at www.canada.ca/Health.
Q: When is the Government expected to announce its decision and regulation about plain packaging?
A. We suggest you ask the Government.
Q: Who is behind this campaign? Who funds this campaign?
A: JTI-Macdonald Corp.
Q: What is the purpose of this campaign?
A: We found out through a poll conducted by Forum Research that 91% of Canadians didn’t understand or hadn’t heard about the public consultation on plain packaging and thought it was important for them to know.
We also wanted to highlight some of the consequences of a branding ban and to help people to be aware of them, in the hope that the Government will reconsider its proposal.
Q: Are people being paid to voice their disagreement of plain packaging on your social media platforms?
A: Absolutely not. Anyone voicing disagreement is doing so entirely on their own initiative.
Q: Does the tobacco industry oppose plain packaging only because it will impact its revenues?
A: We oppose plain packaging because it restricts choice, patronizes adult consumers, harms businesses of small retailers and boosts the illegal tobacco trade.
Q: Does the industry support government initiatives that promote quitting smoking?
A: It is appropriate for governments and health professionals to give health advice and to encourage or help people to quit smoking if they want to quit. Our job is to manage a business that makes highly regulated legal products for adults, and we work very hard to do that responsibly.
We recognize the health risks of tobacco and believe that everyone should be appropriately informed about those risks.
We recognize that tobacco products are o health risks come with smoking and that everyone should be informed about those risks.
Since the 1950s, there has been a very high awareness among smokers of the health risks of smoking. To reinforce this awareness, our tobacco products have carried health warnings for more than 40 years.
Q: Have tobacco companies run similar campaigns in other countries?
A: We undertook a similar initiative in the UK a few years ago, and the tobacco industry and other groups regularly try to make their views known wherever ‘plain packaging’ is being discussed. Unfortunately decisions are often made behind closed doors, and advertising is sometimes the only way to make our concerns known to the Government and the wider public. We are doing this campaign because we want an open and fair debate around branding bans.