The UK Government introduced standardised – or plain – packaging for tobacco products in May 2016 and, after a one-year transition period, the policy became mandatory in May 2017.
Dr Critchlow’s team analysed electronic point of sale data from a representative sample of 500 small retailers in Scotland, England and Wales over the 12-month transition period and then for six months after the legislation became mandatory. The average price-per-cigarette and price-per-gram – both adjusted for inflation – were examined for 20 of the leading fully-branded tobacco products and their standardised equivalents.
Dr Critchlow said: “We found that prices increased across the tobacco market, including rises for value cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco, which price-sensitive consumers may have down-traded to. We also found a continued use of higher prices to distinguish the quality of premium cigarette brands.
“The increases were greater than expected, if just moving in line with tobacco duty.”
Kruti Shrotri, from Cancer Research UK, said: “Tobacco companies claimed that putting cigarettes in plain packaging would result in lower prices, make tobacco more affordable, and increase smoking rates. This research gives us an early indication that this isn’t true.
“Plain packaging for cigarettes is an effective public health measure to reduce the attractiveness of tobacco to young people. The tobacco industry were clearly saying anything they could to try and undermine this health measure and protect their profits.”
The paper, Pricing of tobacco products during, and after, the introduction of standardised packaging: an observational study of retail price data from independent and convenience (small) retailers in the United Kingdom, is published in Addiction, the leading journal for substance use research.
Dr Critchlow collaborated with fellow Stirling academics on the research: Martine Stead, Dr Crawford Moodie, Kathryn Angus, Douglas Eadie, and Anne Marie MacKintosh.