It’s no surprise that the debate on plain tobacco packaging has been characterised by impassioned claim and counter claim from those who want to see this measure introduced, and those who oppose it.
It’s sometimes difficult to separate the facts from the rhetoric, and that’s why last week’s report by the Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC) – an independent body within government that scrutinises new regulatory proposals – was particularly welcome.
All sides of the debate can now look at this objective analysis, and it shows that up until now the Department of Health (DOH) has not fully understood the impact of plain packaging on businesses. The RPC report focuses on the need to assess the impact on small businesses, the costs and operational issues around transition to plain packaging, and, crucially, assumptions made about how plain packaging would affect transaction times in store.
To you and I it sounds pretty bizarre that the DOH believes that plain packaging would lead to a reduction in service times. To anyone who knows retail, it seems obvious that if products all look the same, it will take longer for staff to find them. The RPC’s report must lead to the DOH taking a much closer look at evidence from Australian retailers, and from the Rural Shops Alliance’s UK study which shows the operational burdens for retailers arising from plain packaging.
Of course the other side of this debate is about its impact on public health. I’m yet to see anything that convinces me that young people – who are deserting smoking in their droves because of education – would be influenced by plain packaging.