Dr. Alexander David Wodak, is the president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation. He is also a physician and former director of the Alcohol and Drug Service, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney (1982-2012) and was one of the founders of Australia’s first needle syringe programme.

A known supporter of harm reduction with regards to drugs, he is also a passionate advocate of taking the same approach with regards to smoking. In an interview on ABC Wodak explained how Australia is adopting the wrong approach towards nicotine safer alternatives, leading it to fall behind other countries with regards to smoking rates, rather than making progress.

One of the strong points he made is that “most smokers are low income,” and therefore safer nicotine alternatives should be priced relatively to their risks in order to encourage smokers to migrate to them.

Are plain packaging laws effective?

Once brand loyalty no longer made sense, smokers started making purchasing decisions based solely on price.
Echoing this same point, researchers from James Cook University in Australia, have recently reported that after plain packaging regulations went into effect in 2012, smokers just migrated to cheaper cigarette brands, which resulted in consuming more.

The study participants reported that the removal of branding somehow reduced the quality of their smoking experience, making their preferred cigarettes seem as of lower quality, worse taste, less satisfying and more harmful.

To this effect, most smokers decided they may aswell switch to the cheapest brands on the market, as once brand loyalty no longer made sense, they were instead making purchasing decisions based solely on price. “It appears smokers switched from more expensive to cheaper cigarettes, reducing their overall tobacco expenditure. However, as smoking became less costly, smokers consumed more cigarettes,” said one of the study authors.

“Smoking prevalence overall has been going down for a while, but on average, current smokers are inhaling 6.49 equivalent cigarettes per week more than the predicted trends. Annually, this equates to more than 330 additional cigarettes purchased and consumed by each smoker each year in excess of what we would expect,” he added.

Prices should be streamlined

In light of these findings, concluded Dr. Wodak, policymakers should consider measures, such as taxes or price floors to streamline prices. “These taxes and price floors would help to equalise tobacco prices and remove the incentive to substitute. This would also eliminate the growing ‘discounted’ tobacco market, and cause a reduction in intake.” These findings support Wodak’s argument that cheaper prices for safer alternatives such as vapes, may encourage smokers to switch.

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