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Study Counters Critics of Plain Cigarette Packaging

Tobacco industry claims change would harm small businesses, but Australian experience refutes that

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Aug. 29, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Selling cigarettes in plain packages doesn't increase the use of low-cost or illegal tobacco and doesn't harm sales in small stores, according to new research from Australia.

Those problems were predicted by the tobacco industry when it tried to prevent Australia from becoming the first country in the world to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products in 2012. Similar legislation is being considered in Ireland, New Zealand and the U.K.

Researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 adult smokers in Australia before and after the plain-packaging rule was implemented. The results showed that the smokers continued to buy their tobacco from the same places, according to the study released online on Aug. 28 in the BMJ.

Nearly two-thirds of smokers bought their tobacco from supermarkets in 2011 and 2013. The proportion of those who bought tobacco at small, independent stores rose from just over 9 percent in 2011 to just over 11 percent in 2013.

The use of low-cost Asian brands hovered around 1 percent in both 2011 and 2013. The use of illegal unbranded tobacco was dropped slightly to less than 2 percent between 2011 and 2013.

In 2013, about 3 percent of smokers said they had bought at least one possibly contraband pack within the previous three months, and nearly 2 percent said they had bought from informal sources -- such as a market stall or the back of a van -- once or twice over the past 12 months.

"This study provides no evidence of the unintended consequences of standardized packaging predicted by opponents [having] happened one year after implementation," the study authors concluded.

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