Smoking rates drop after introduction of plain packaging, research shows

The government could be one step closer to implementing standardised cigarette packaging in the UK, after research showed a sharp drop in smoking rates in Australia following introduction of the scheme.

Smoking: plain packaging linked to sharp drop in Australian smokers (Photo: iStock)

The number of Australians over 14 who smoked daily dropped from 15.1% to 12.8% between 2010 and 2013 – equivalent to a 15% reduction, according to Australian government statistics.

Australia, currently the only country to impose the regulation, introduced standardised packaging in 2012. Although other factors are likely to have contributed to the drop, this was the only intervention policy introduced within the study period.

The UK government said it would seek to introduce plain packaging in a report released in April. It said last July that it would wait until the scheme’s impact had been measured in Australia before introducing standardised packaging in the UK.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said the 'massive' drop in Australian smokers was ‘exactly the strong and convincing evidence’ that showed the measures work.

'Massive decline' in smoking

She said: ‘The UK government is currently consulting on standardised packaging before deciding whether to proceed and has asked for new and emerging evidence.

‘Well here it is and it demonstrates a massive decline in smoking prevalence in Australia following introduction of standardised packaging.’

Dr Ram Moorthy, deputy chair of the BMA’s Board of Science, previously welcomed the government’s decision to look into introducing the measure.

He said: ‘The BMA has long campaigned for the government to introduce standardised packaging as a way of helping smokers quit and to help non-smokers, especially children who are heavily influenced by tobacco marketing, to never start.

‘As doctors we see first-hand every day the devastating effects of tobacco addiction and we call on the government to make a decision quickly and to introduce standardised packaging at the earliest possible opportunity in order to help put an end to a life-long addiction that kills and destroys health.’

The average number of cigarettes smoked per week by Australian smokers also dropped, falling from 111 in 2010 to 96 in 2013.

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