Standardized Tobacco Packaging Did Not Change Purchasing Habits Interview with: 
Michelle Scollo
Senior policy adviser, Tobacco
Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer

Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?

Answer:  Each November the Cancer Council Victoria conducts a survey asking smokers about their tobacco purchasing habits and smoking attitudes, intentions and behaviours. This study compared what smokers said about where and what they purchased in:

  • November 2011, a year before the introduction of world-first legislation mandating standardized packaging of tobacco products throughout Australia
  • In November 2012, while the new plain packs were being rolled out onto the market and
  • In November 2013 one year later.

The tobacco industry had strenuously opposed the legislation, but—contrary to the industry predictions and continuing claims in other countries contemplating similar legislation—we found:

1.       No evidence of smokers shifting from purchasing in small independent outlets to purchasing in larger supermarkets
2.       No evidence of an increase in use of very cheap brands of cigarettes manufactured by companies based in Asia and
3.       No evidence of an increase in use of illicit unbranded tobacco.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Answer: Standardized packaging of tobacco products aims to reduce the capacity of packaging to increase the appeal of the products, increase the effectiveness of health warnings and reduce the capacity for packaging to mislead consumers about harmfulness of a product that causes a range of disabling conditions and the premature death of more than half of long-term users.

Governments in other countries should regard industry claims about unintended negative consequences with some skepticism.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Answer: This study was restricted to the Australian state of Victoria (about one quarter of the Australian population). Larger national studies should continue to monitor purchasing habits and use of illicit unbranded tobacco as well as the broader effects of the legislation.


Early evidence about the predicted unintended consequences of standardised packaging of tobacco products in Australia: a cross-sectional study of the place of purchase, regular brands and use of illicit tobacco

Michelle Scollo,Meghan Zacher,Sarah Durkin Melanie Wakefield
BMJ Open 2014;4:e005873 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005873


Last Updated on August 30, 2014 by Marie Benz MD FAAD