Plain packaging by itself is not a health policy in any recognisable sense. It neither informs nor educates. On the contrary, it limits information and restricts choice. There is no logical consistency between health warnings and plain packaging – the former is supposed to be informative for your health (regardless of size and visibility), while the latter is supposed to restrict information on branding, thus limiting your choice. While empirical research is inconclu¬sive as to the actual effectiveness of plain packaging, some studies suggest that plain packaging could on the contrary have unintended negative consequences. It is a classic case of a policy that focuses on “that which is seen” and ignores “that which is not seen” directly.
In recent years, the debate over plain packaging of cigarettes has been quite intense and evolving, with developments in Australia, the UK, and the EU. Australia becomes the first country to introduce plain packaging of cigarettes throughout 2012, but the newly established policy is put into question by several lawsuits. UK authorities are also considering the possibility of introducing legislation to mandate plain packaging of cigarettes. On European level, there are ongoing consultations for revision of the Tobacco Policy Directive (TPD), with plain packaging still on the table. In addition, governments are pursuing similar policies in a somewhat roundabout way, by increasing the size of the compulsory health warnings, thus leaving less space for branding.
Petar Ganev - started as an intern at the Institute for Market Economics in 2007, is currently a senior economist. His fields of expertise are: competition, taxation, economic freedom, climate change, energy, poverty. He is the initiator and organizer of the Students’ Club at IME. Author of more than 200 articles published in the weekly IME bulletin "Review of Economic Policy," in the Bulletin for lower taxes.