Evaluation of tobacco plain packaging in Australia

Tobacco plain packaging operates as one part of Australia’s comprehensive set of tobacco control measures. It is an investment in the long term health of Australians and its full effects will be seen over the long term.

Page last updated: 17 April 2018

The Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 (the Act) and the Tobacco Plain Packaging Regulations 2011 set out the requirements for plain packaging in Australia. The objectives as set out in the Act are to improve public health by discouraging people from using tobacco products, discouraging relapse of tobacco use and reducing exposure to tobacco smoke. It is intended that tobacco plain packaging contributes to these objectives by regulating the retail packaging and appearance of tobacco products in order to:

  • reduce the appeal of tobacco products to consumers;
  • increase the effectiveness of health warnings; and
  • reduce the ability of the retail packaging of tobacco products to mislead consumers about the harmful effects of smoking or using tobacco products.
While the full effect of tobacco plain packaging is expected to be realised over time, early available evidence indicates that the measure is beginning to achieve its public health objectives and is expected to continue to do so into the future.

Further information about the operation of tobacco plain packaging and graphic health warnings in Australia is available from the Department's plain packaging of tobacco products page.

Information about the introduction of tobacco plain packaging in Australia can be found on the Introduction of tobacco plain packaging in Australia page.

Post-Implementation Review of Tobacco Plain Packaging 2016

The Department commenced a post-implementation review (PIR) of tobacco plain packaging in December 2014 in accordance with the Australian Government’s best practice regulation process. The purpose of a PIR is to assess whether a regulation remains appropriate, and how effective and efficient the regulation has been in meeting its objectives.

The PIR was published on the Office of Best Practice Regulation website on 26 February 2016. The PIR concluded that the tobacco plain packaging measure has begun to achieve its public health objectives of reducing smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke in Australia and it is expected to continue to do so into the future.

The body of studies considered for the PIR show that the tobacco plain packaging measure is having an impact by reducing the appeal of tobacco products, increasing the effectiveness of health warnings, and reducing the ability of the pack to mislead. The studies also provide early evidence of positive changes to actual smoking and quitting behaviours.

The available studies are diverse, peer reviewed and published in leading medical journals. The studies analyse the impact of the measure on a range of different groups (including adolescents, adults, and cigarette and cigar/cigarillo smokers) and using a range of different datasets (including a National Tracking Survey, a NSW Tracking Survey, the 2013 Australian Secondary Students Alcohol Smoking and Drug Survey Extension and waves of data from the Australian component of the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project).

A number of major datasets analysed as part of the PIR showed continuing declines in smoking prevalence and consumption including the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014-2015 National Health Survey and Household Expenditure data; the 2014 Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) Survey; and Roy Morgan Single Source smoking prevalence data.

The Department engaged Siggins Miller Consultants Pty Ltd (Siggins Miller) to undertake consultation with affected stakeholders and to analyse the costs and benefits of the measure for the purposes of the PIR. Siggins Miller’s consultancy reports informed the PIR and are appended to the PIR as a Stakeholder Consultation Report and a report on the Regulatory Burden and Analysis of Costs and Benefits.

Study of the Impact of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Measure on Smoking Prevalence

The Department engaged Dr Tasneem Chipty, of Analysis Group, an expert in econometric analysis to perform an analysis of the Roy Morgan Single Source smoking prevalence data to ascertain whether the tobacco plain packaging measure had had a discernible effect on the prevalence of smoking in Australia.

Dr Chipty found that after controlling for a range of variables, including excise tax increases since 2010, and socio-demographic factors, tobacco plain packaging in combination with graphic health warnings was associated with a statistically significant estimated decline in smoking prevalence of around 0.55 percentage points between December 2012 and September 2015, or about one quarter of the total drop in prevalence during the period. The initial report ‘Study of the Impact of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Measure on Smoking Prevalence in Australia’ is appended to the PIR as Appendix A.

On 19 May 2016, Dr Chipty provided an addendum to her report estimating the number of fewer smokers as a result of the 0.55 percentage point decline. Over the 34 month post-implementation period from December 2012 to September 2015, Dr Chipty estimated that the 2012 packaging changes resulted in 108,228 fewer smokers.

British Medical Journal (BMJ) Tobacco Control special supplement

On 19 March 2015 the BMJ released a Tobacco Control special supplement containing the results of 15 peer-reviewed articles evaluating Australia’s tobacco plain packaging legislation. The special supplement contains a number of studies undertaken by various authors, including articles relating to the following work commissioned by the Department:

All the papers published in the BMJ Tobacco Control special supplement are available from the BMJ’s Tobacco Control website.

National Monthly Tobacco Plain Packaging Tracking Survey

In April 2012, the Department contracted the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, Cancer Council Victoria, to conduct a national cross-sectional, monthly tracking survey of smokers and recent quitters for the purpose of assessing the short to mid-term effects of tobacco plain packaging.

The Survey field work was undertaken each month by the Social Research Centre between April 2012 and March 2014. Each month 400 smokers and recent quitters aged 18-69 years were surveyed, with a follow-up survey conducted approximately 1 month after the baseline interview. Eligible respondents were interviewed using computer-assisted telephone interviewing and included residents of private dwellings that were able to understand and speak English from urban, rural and remote locations across all Australian states and territories.

The Australian National Plain Packaging Tracking Survey: Technical Report is available for download on the BMJ Tobacco Control website.

Related journal articles

The following papers are based on data from the National Tobacco Plain Packaging Monthly Tracking Survey, funded by the Department of Health, and are freely available from the BMJ's Tobacco Control website at the links below:

Research relating to Australian cigar smokers

The Department contracted the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute in 2014 to undertake a series of studies into the responses of cigar and cigarillo smokers to tobacco plain packaging. The research involved qualitative in-depth interviews, focus groups and a national online quantitative survey of 268 cigar and cigarillo smokers.

Journal article - available from the BMJ Tobacco Control website

Evaluation of the early effects of tobacco plain packaging on adolescents

The Department contracted Cancer Council Victoria to conduct a follow-up survey in 2013 of students attending secondary schools in Victoria and Queensland that participated in the 2011 Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) survey. The research was undertaken by the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, at Cancer Council Victoria which coordinates the regular triennial national surveys of secondary school students on tobacco, alcohol and illicit substances and is available on the National Drug Strategy website.

The 2013 evaluation survey was designed to compare before and after tobacco plain packaging. The evaluation survey included questions about: beliefs and attitudes about cigarette packaging; ratings of popular cigarette brands; noticing health warnings on cigarette packs; awareness of the specific health harms of tobacco use; perceptions of the prevalence of smoking; and intention to smoke.

Journal articles - available from the BMJ Tobacco Control website

Other tobacco facts and figures

Information on key facts and figures on tobacco sales, consumption and smoking prevalence in Australia is available from the Tobacco control key facts and figures page.