Tim Andrews: The Folly of Plain Packaging

Cody Findlay discusses some of the points made in ATA Executive Director Tim Andrews’ speech on plain packaging: including its policy failures, contempt for free speech and for intellectual property rights.

Tim Andrews, Executive Director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance, recently made a conclusive speech about tobacco plain packaging; its policy failures and its total disregard for intellectual property rights.

At the heart of plain packaging requirements is a fundamental issue of the restriction of free speech in society. Tim highlights that through plain packaging, the government is able to disregard some companies’ intellectual property rights simply because they disapprove of the product being sold. Everyone knows smoking is bad. But this paternalistic approach that the government gets to limit free speech is “based on the idea that people don’t know what’s good for them.”

This decision by the government is more than just about plain packaging. It’s about the precedent set by the government that it can encroach on our personal freedoms and try to manipulate society to what they deem ‘acceptable’, just like the Greens’ proposed sugar tax. Since this precedent has already been crossed, we could well be on the path to a shopping trip full of plain packaged foods and drink the government doesn’t approve of.  Some groups are already calling for the plain packaging of alcohol, soft drinks and unhealthy food.

Tim also highlights the complete failure plain packaging has had on changing consumer behaviour and achieving its intended goal. When plain packaging was introduced, the different tobacco companies could only now compete on price and saw a huge market domination from deep discount tobacco brands (from around 20% in 2012 to over 50% today).Smoking has been trending down for over 40 years and the only uptick in smoking was seen after plain packaging when brands competed on price and saw a sizable increase in teenage consumption. After the government saw this, they imposed a series of taxes which has since seen the number decline. Smoking rates have been going down at the exact same rate as pre-plain packaging. Plain packaging by itself didn’t work.

Tim also explained the unintended consequence of these laws; price hikes and the huge growth of the tobacco black market fuelling and funding criminal gangs. Black market tobacco doesn’t have the quality control like plain packaged tobacco companies and samples of black market tobacco contained bits of faeces, asbestos and mould.

Objectively these laws are useless, encroach our freedoms and undermined everybody’s intelligence. Tim should pat himself on the back for his speech.

Cody Findlay is a second year Economics and Finance student at Macquarie University currently interning for the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. 

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