Australia’s plain packaging a failure, says Democracy Institute

Patrick Basham
Patrick Basham

Scholarly, private, and government research data show that Australia’s plain packaging experiment has failed to reduce smoking, yet it has damaged small retailers, while simultaneously boosting the illicit tobacco trade. These are the findings of a new report released in Australia on March 26 by the Democracy Institute, a politically independent research organization based in Washington and London.

“There’s a clear policy lesson,” says the report’s author, Patrick Basham, who has written two books on plain packaging, The Plain Truth: Does Packaging Influence Smoking? (2012) and Erasing Intellectual Property: Plain Packaging of Consumer Products and the Implications for Trademark Rights (2011).

“On both public health and economic grounds, it would be unwise for other countries to climb aboard the plain-packaging bandwagon at the very moment that it’s headed for the evidentiary ditch,” concludes Basham.

The report’s key findings are:

  • The smoking rate has been unaffected by plain packaging. However, some national and specific state data show an increase in smoking prevalence since the introduction of plain packaging. T
  • Tobacco consumption has increased since late 2012, with industry sales volumes rising.
  • There has been a significant increase in the rate of under-age smoking.
  • There has been a noticeable rise in the demand for cheaper cigarettes.
  • Plain packaging is shifting smokers towards lower priced tobacco products rather than quitting their habit; consequently, the number of people quitting has dropped.
  • Plain packaging has stimulated the illicit tobacco trade, as it is becoming easier for counterfeit or illegal tobacco to enter the Australian market.
  • Plain packaging has placed a financial, administrative, and customer service burden upon small retailers.
  • Australia’s adoption of plain packaging is a catalyst for economically damaging trade disputes with some of her most important trading partners, such as Indonesia.

“The failure of plain packaging should not come as a surprise to Australian policymakers,” argues Basham in the report. He explains that, prior to the decision in 2011 to move ahead with plain packaging, “they were explicitly warned about the policy’s probable negative outcomes. Their leap of faith on plain packaging has damaged public health and cost the government billions in lost revenue.”

The report, An Australian lesson: the plain packaging experiment is a failure is available for download online at