Objectives: To test for early evidence whether, following the standardisation of tobacco packaging, smokers in Australia were--as predicted by the tobacco industry--less likely to purchase from small mixed business retailers, more likely to purchase cheap brands imported from Asia and more likely to use illicit tobacco.
Design: Serial cross-sectional population telephone surveys in November 2011 (a year prior to implementation), 2012 (during roll-out) and 2013 (a year after implementation).
Setting/participants: Smokers aged 18 years and over identified in an annual population survey in the Australian state of Victoria (2011: n=754; 2012: n=590; 2013: n=601).
Main outcome measures: Changes between 2011 and 2013 in: proportions of current smokers who purchased their last cigarette from discount outlets such as supermarkets compared with small mixed business retail outlets; prevalence of regular use of low-cost brands imported from Asia and use of unbranded tobacco.
Results: The proportion of smokers purchasing from supermarkets did not increase between 2011 (65.4%) and 2013 (65.7%; p=0.98), and the percentage purchasing from small mixed business outlets did not decline (2011: 9.2%; 2012: 11.2%; p=0.32). The prevalence of low-cost Asian brands was low and did not increase between 2011 (1.1%) and 2013 (0.9%; p=0.98). The proportion reporting current use of unbranded illicit tobacco was 2.3% in 2011 and 1.9% in 2013 (p=0.46). In 2013, 2.6% of cigarette smokers reported having purchased one or more packets of cigarettes in non-compliant packaging in the past 3 months; 1.7% had purchased one or more packets from an informal seller in the past year.
Conclusions: One year after implementation, this study found no evidence of the major unintended consequences concerning loss of smoker patrons from small retail outlets, flooding of the market by cheap Asian brands and use of illicit tobacco predicted by opponents of plain packaging in Australia.
Keywords: Public Health.
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