In May 2017, the U.K. government mandated standardized packaging for both factory-made cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco products. The country also added a minimum excise tax to raise the price of lower-cost tobacco products.
The legislation led to a sharp decrease in cigarette sales, according to the analysis of cigarette sales in the U.K. from 2015 to 2018. Sales decreased by 20 million cigarettes per month after the regulation took place, compared to a decline of 12 million cigarettes per month before the change.
The decline in cigarette sales also led to a decrease in after-tax revenue for the tobacco industry, the authors found. The industry's net revenue fell from 231 million pounds ($291.4 million U.S.) to 198 million pounds ($249.8 million U.S.), a decline of 13%.
The implementation of standardized packaging and minimum excise tax threw a wrench into how companies acquire new cigarette users, according to lead study author Rosemary Hiscock, PhD, a researcher at the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath.
"This allowed the tobacco industry to make enough profit on premium brands to subsidize its cheap brands, keeping them cheap enough for young people to afford to start smoking and to prevent price-conscious smokers from being incentivized to quit," Hiscock stated in a press release.
The U.K. was only the second country to mandate standardized packaging and the first country to study its effects, the authors noted. The study results suggest the regulations could have major public health benefits.
"Standardized packaging has weakened the appeal of premium brands, on which the tobacco companies made more profits, and the [minimum excise tax] has forced cheap brands to become more expensive," Hiscock stated. "This implies that the legislation should play a role in reducing the prevalence of smoking and its consequences."
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