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Plain packaging to thank for Australia’s decline in smoking, says Labor

Tobacco consumption fell 2.9% in quarter and 12.2% over the year, two years after plain-packaging legislation came into effect

Australia’s plain packaging: the British House of Commons has just voted to adopt similar legislation. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Australia’s plain packaging: the British House of Commons has just voted to adopt similar legislation. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Australians are ditching cigarettes at record levels, with the latest quarterly figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showing a fall of nearly 3% in tobacco consumption.

The seasonally-adjusted figures for the December quarter show a 2.9% fall in consumption, contributing to a 12.2% yearly fall from December 2013 to December 2014.

Labor attributes the decline in smoking to its plain packaging legislation, which saw all branding removed from cigarette packs from December 2012.

“That takes the total fall in tobacco consumption to a staggering 12.8% in the two years since Labor’s plain packaging laws came into effect,” the opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said.

“The minister welcomes any decrease in smoking rates and believes several factors have likely contributed, including education campaigns, excise increases and plain packaging,” a spokesman for the assistant health minister, Fiona Nash, told Guardian Australia.

A spokesman for British American Tobacco Australia, Scott McIntyre, told said plain packaging had little to do with the reduction.

He said successive governments’ decision to hike up prices has meant more smokers are buying cigarettes from the black market or opting for cheaper brands.

“Just because people are spending less money on tobacco doesn’t mean they’re reducing the amount the smoke, in fact many are smoking more for less,” McIntyre said.

“Instead of quitting, smokers are looking for cheaper options. Australia’s three million smokers are speaking with their wallets and literally walking into their local retailers and asking for the cheapest pack on the shelves.”

Overnight, the British House of Commons voted to adopt similar legislation by 367 votes to 113.


The Australian Council on Smoking and Health said Australia has been a pioneer in the area of plain packaging.

“The British decision is especially important, as many countries still look to the UK as an exemplar. Several other countries are now planning to introduce plain packaging, following Australia – legislation last week in Ireland, and now the UK,” its president, Mike Daube, said.

“The British decision to introduce plain packaging is a massive victory for public health and a tremendous vindication for Australia’s world-leading legislation.”

Branding will be banned from cigarette packets in the UK from May 2016.

“As feared by tobacco companies, Australia’s lead is now creating an unstoppable momentum, with France set to follow and the entire European Union now likely to soon move to plain packaging. Labor’s example in staring down the ferocious legal attacks from big tobacco are now inspiring the rest of the world to follow this major advance in public health,” King said.

“It is understandable why the tobacco industry thinks plain packaging is a bad thing. But the evidence, and the momentum, is clear and Labor now looks forward to other nations joining the UK and Ireland in following Australia’s lead.”

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