Does every tobacco control measure result in catastrophe?
Key message: In countries where effective tobacco control measures have been implemented, catastrophic outcomes predicted by the tobacco industry – such as public uproar, illicit trade or negative economic impacts – have simply not materialized.
What is the issue?
When evidence-based tobacco control measures are proposed or implemented, the tobacco industry generally predicts that they will have catastrophic effects, in the form of responses such as illicit trade, public uproar, negative economic impacts, crime, job losses, or other inconveniences.
What is the evidence for concern?
There are many examples of the tobacco industry predicting catastrophic outcomes as a result of evidence-based tobacco control interventions.
When plain packaging was considered in Australia, tobacco companies orchestrated substantial advertising, public relations and lobbying campaigns predicting that plain packaging would result in various disastrous outcomes. It was argued that plain packaging would result in delays in shops and more in-store crime, that sales would shift from small retail outlets to supermarkets, illicit tobacco trade would increase, and that the government would be liable for massive compensation costs following litigation .
In countries where bars and restaurants have gone completely smokefree, the tobacco industry and bar owner representatives argued that this would result in non-compliant, angry customers, threats to the safety of bar staff, and a loss of revenue for hospitality businesses .
The tobacco industry, often working through front groups such as the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC), argues that tobacco taxes result in illicit trade .
The tobacco industry has also predicted that tobacco control measures will lead to a loss of jobs. They have argued, for example, that tobacco taxation will result in the loss of jobs for people whose jobs depend on tobacco business , or that bans on tobacco sponsorships will result in a loss of jobs that depend on the events they sponsor .
When bans on tobacco advertising and sponsorship have been proposed, tobacco companies have argued that this would be disastrous for the media and sponsored sports events .
Tobacco companies also argue that tobacco control measures are unconstitional and violate international trade laws or commercial rights, which would lead to lawsuits and the loss of millions, or even billions of dollars to governments.
What is the reality?
- The catastrophic outcomes predicted by tobacco companies or its front groups have not materialized. By contrast, evidence-based tobacco control measures such as smokefree laws, tobacco taxes and plain packaging have been successful and are welcomed by the general public (see: Is there public support for tobacco control measures?).
- In Australia, the tobacco industry and its allies predicted a range of damaging consequences, including major negative legal and financial outcomes – which failed to materialise . Indeed, after plain packaging was implemented in 2012, tobacco consumption fell to record lows, and an independent review concluded that even in the short term this measure was responsible for a quarter of the decline in smoking. .
- In many countries, leisure venues such as bars are completely smokefree and this has not negatively affected sales, employment and the number of establishments; in many countries, economic impacts have been positive . Compliance and public support for smokefree bars are also high, and tend to increase when people start to experience the benefits .
- The experience of various countries, where tobacco taxes are high, has shown that tobacco taxes boost the economy and do not increase illicit tobacco trade .
- Measures such as tobacco taxation and bans on tobacco sponsorships do not result in a loss of jobs. Tobacco industry studies that have made these predictions grossly overestimated figures and did not take into account the fact that many jobs counted as 'tobacco-dependent' were not fully dependent on tobacco, that money not spent on tobacco is spent on other goods, and that events not sponsored by tobacco companies will find sponsorship elsewhere .
- Based on studies in numerous countries, bans on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion reduce smoking initiation by an estimated 6% and smoking prevalence by an estimated 4%. A comprehensive advertising ban also reduces tobacco consumption by roughly 24% per capita .
- Tobacco control measures do not violate international trade law, as these laws have provisions that allow governments to protect the public's health. The tobacco industry has led high-profile lawsuits against Australia and the UK for plain packaging, and against Uruguay for its strict tobacco control law. The tobacco industry has so far lost all of these lawsuits .
- When effective tobacco control measures are proposed or implemented, a common tactic of the tobacco industry is to argue that the proposed measure will result in a catastrophe: illicit trade, crime, economic loss, job losses, expensive lawsuits that will be lost, and so on.
- The experience of various countries, however, shows that these predictions simply do not materialize. In many countries, evidence-based tobacco control measures such as tobacco taxes, smokefree laws, plain packaging and bans on tobacco marketing have been implemented with great success.
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