City News

Impact of plain packaging questionable in Sydney’s inner city

Fone Smart tobacconist, Kings Cross

By Emily Contador-Kelsall

Sydney tobacco retailers and consumers have found that the federal government’s plain packaging initiative has not had a profound impact on consumer habits, but instead attribute most of the changes they have witnessed to increasing tobacco prices in Australia.

Last week, British American Tobacco Australasia (BATA) reported the federal government’s plain packaging campaign and increased pricing was causing a boom in cheap cigarette sales and actually increasing smokers’ intake of cigarettes.

Scott McIntyre, spokesperson for BATA, said plain packaging and high excise increases have caused a “race to the bottom” as smokers walk into retailers and ask for the cheapest packs on sale.

“Smokers are now looking for cheaper brands and paying $13 a pack instead of $25 as excise has pushed prices to their highest ever point. Plain packs and excise has seen smokers look for cheaper products, and instead of quitting they’re saving money.”

Ricky Wu from tobacconist ‘Fone Smart’ at Kings Cross said customers walk in and ask for the cheapest cigarettes without concern for brand distinction, however attributes this to the rising price of tobacco in Australia rather than plain packaging.

“Some customers used to have some brand but the prices keep going up and there are some new brands with low prices.”

“Just the beginning of plain packaging [saw a change in sales], people see it’s [the packaging] horrible, but after that, a couple of weeks, people just get used to it.”

The Australian Government’s Department of Health reported tobacco sales are at their lowest; “Recent figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that total consumption of tobacco and cigarettes in the March quarter 2014 is the lowest ever recorded, as measured by estimated expenditure on tobacco products.”

BATA’s Mr McIntyre pointed to these figures as evidence for people spending less money on cigarettes rather than smoking less.

Kat Foundling, a daily smoker, said her smoking habits had not been affected by plain packaging but by the expense of tobacco; “The pricing of cigarettes has led me down the sad trail of buying the cheapest most disgusting 40packs- which funnily enough has increased my smoking habits,” she said.

Fiona Fang of Cignall in Edgecliff, a tobacco retailer, has found that both plain packaging and increased tobacco prices had impacted sales.

“Some people don’t like the package so they don’t buy [it] or cut down.”

“Most people don’t like the package, it’s awful.”

Ms Fang had experienced customers coming in and asking for the cheapest cigarettes, and said there had been a decrease in sales of expensive tobacco brands since the implementation of plain packaging.

Nader Tehrani, a smoker of 12 years who recently quit, said plain packaging made no difference to him.

Mr Wu said if people want to smoke, they will smoke regardless of packaging.

“Even one customer dropped in and said ‘hello I’m looking for my friend Bryan’, I said ‘Who?’ ‘Bryan’, He said look at the packs and I see the pack and the dead guy on the pack is Bryan,” he said.

“They get used to the pack, it’s no different.”

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