Monday, June 23, 2014

Newsflash. Cigarette sales are sliding. Previously suppressed Treasury figures say so.

The Commonwealth Treasury has entered the debate over cigarette sales, publishing previously secret information that shows sales falling since the introduction of graphic health warnings and plain packaging.

The Treasury collects data on sales per stick in order to levy tobacco excise, but has until now withheld it from publication in order to protect taxpayer confidentiality.

Added to the Health Department’s website quietly last week amid debate over the effectiveness of plain packaging, the Treasury data shows 3.4 per cent fewer cigarettes were sold in 2013 than 2012. Plain packaging became mandatory on December 1, 2012.

The Treasury data is consistent with national accounts data which shows a decline of 0.9 per cent in the amount of tobacco and cigarettes sold between 2012 and 2013. The national accounts show a further slide of 7.6 per cent in the three months to March after the first of a number of big hikes in tobacco excise announced late last year.

The Bureau of Statistics bases the national accounts measure on a survey of households, whereas the Treasury collects information on every stick and pouch of tobacco sold.

The Treasury data suggests that adjusted for population growth of 1.7 per cent the number of sticks sold per person slid around 5 per cent between 2012 and 2013.

The ABS data has consumption of tobacco the lowest ever recorded...

Both measures conflict with industry claims that tobacco sales climbed by 59 million sticks or roll-your-own equivalents in 2013. The claimed 0.3 per cent increase said to be sourced from the data analysis firm InfoView although the data behind it has not been publicly released.

Further declines are in store when tobacco excise jumps by a further 12.5 per cent in December, and then by 12.5 per cent in December 2015 and 2016. The increases will be on top of the regular six-monthly indexation increases which now move in line with average weekly earnings rather than the consumer price index.

The Health department website links to a briefing by the chief executive of Imperial Tobacco Alison Cooper which says that during the first six months of plain packaging the Australian tobacco market shrank “roughly 2 to 3 per cent”.

The president of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health Mike Daube said the Treasury data was clearly more reliable than the unpublished industry figures.

“It’s worth noting that in publishing the Treasury data the health department said it was an indicator of tobacco volumes in the Australian market. It was a gentle guide to those who need guide dogs and white sticks that these are the most relevant figures,” he said.

“The whole debate is dishonest,” he added. “We’ve always said that the main focus of plain packaging is long term. No-one said plain packaging was going to stop everybody smoking overnight .”

British American Tobacco spokesman Scott McIntyre agreed that smoking rates were declining. “Smoking rates have been declining in Australia for a very very long time,” he said. “But since plain packaging the rate of decline has halved. That’s what we are arguing.”

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald

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