Impact of plain packaging of tobacco products on smoking in adults and children: an elicitation of international experts' estimates

BMC Public Health. 2013 Jan 9:13:18. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-13-18.


Background: Governments sometimes face important decisions in the absence of direct evidence. In these cases, expert elicitation methods can be used to quantify uncertainty. We report the results of an expert elicitation study regarding the likely impact on smoking rates in adults and children of plain packaging of tobacco products.

Methods: Thirty-three tobacco control experts were recruited from the UK (n = 14), Australasia (n = 12) and North America (n = 7). Experts' estimates were individually elicited via telephone interviews, and then linearly pooled. Elicited estimates consisted of (1) the most likely, (2) the highest possible, and (3) the lowest possible value for the percentage of (a) adult smokers and (b) children trying smoking, two years after the introduction of plain packaging (all other things being constant) in a target country in the expert's region of residence.

Results: The median estimate for the impact on adult smoking prevalence was a 1 percentage point decline (99% range 2.25 to 0), and for the percentage of children trying smoking was a 3 percentage point decline (99% range 6.1 to 0), the latter estimated impact being larger than the former (P < 0.001, sign test). There were no differences in either estimate by region (I2: Adults: 0; Children: 0) but there was considerable variability between experts' estimates within regions (I2: Adults: 0.91; Children: 0.89).

Conclusions: In the absence of direct evidence for the impact of introducing plain packaging on smoking rates in adults and children, this study shows that tobacco control experts felt the most likely outcomes would be a reduction in smoking prevalence in adults, and a greater reduction in the numbers of children trying smoking, although there was substantial variability in the estimated size of these impacts. No experts judged an increase in smoking as a likely outcome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Australasia
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Internationality
  • North America
  • Product Packaging*
  • Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Smoking Prevention
  • Tobacco Products*
  • United Kingdom