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The effectiveness of plain packaging in discouraging tobacco consumption in Australia

A Publisher Correction to this article was published on 02 October 2020

This article has been updated


The removal of all branding and promotions from tobacco products, known as ‘plain packaging’, is intended to decrease tobacco consumption. Here we examine the effectiveness of Australia’s plain packaging law, which coincided with a change in graphic and text health warnings, by using nationally indicative data 5 years post implementation. We measured the effect of the law on smoking prevalence, tobacco expenditure, expenditure intensity and quantity of tobacco consumed, using New Zealand as a control country in a difference-in-differences research design. We uncover a substitution effect that is robust to different specifications and control countries. In response to the policy, smokers switched from more expensive to cheaper cigarettes and reduced their overall tobacco expenditure and expenditure intensity. However, as smoking became less costly, smokers consumed more cigarettes. To discourage such substitution and to help the policy achieve its intended outcomes, policymakers should consider implementing auxiliary measures, such as taxes or price floors.

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Fig. 1: Time trends in tobacco outcomes for Australia and New Zealand before and after the TPP Act.
Fig. 2: Time trends in the control variables for Australia and New Zealand.
Fig. 3: Euclidean distances between Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, NUC and Australia.

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  • 02 October 2020

    An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.


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Authors and Affiliations



D.U., S.S. and R.A.M.H.M.W. designed the study. D.U. collected the data and conducted statistical analysis. S.S. conducted part of the robustness check. D.U. drafted the initial manuscript. S.S. and R.A.M.H.M.W. revised the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Sizhong Sun.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Primary handling editor: Stavroula Kousta.

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Underwood, D., Sun, S. & Welters, R.A.M.H.M. The effectiveness of plain packaging in discouraging tobacco consumption in Australia. Nat Hum Behav 4, 1273–1284 (2020).

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