Doctors dismiss tobacco industry evidence on plain packaging as 'irrelevant'

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Evidence used by the tobacco industry to torpedo plans to introduce plain cigarette packets in England was largely irrelevant and of low quality, doctors have said.

Out of 77 pieces of apparently scientific evidence offered by the four main tobacco companies during a Government consultation on the policy in 2012, only 17 actually addressed the question of standardised packaging, and 14 of these were studies that had been funded by the tobacco industry, according to a report in the online medical journal BMJ Open.

None of the 17 items of research on standardised packaging had been published in peer reviewed journals, a key hallmark of scientific quality and integrity, experts from University of Bath said.

The Government postponed its decision on introducing standardised packaging following the consultation last year, saying it needed more evidence of its impact. Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco, Philip Morris Ltd and Japan Tobacco International all submitted evidence to the consultation.

Health experts said plain packs would deter people from taking up smoking and reduce harms to public health. The Government has since commissioned an independent review by the leading paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler.

The BMJ Open report’s authors concluded: “With few exceptions, evidence cited by [transnational companies] to promote their claim that standardised packaging ‘won’t work’ lacks either policy relevance or key indicators of quality.”