The decision to put explicit images of smoking-related illnesses on Australian cigarette packs appears to have backfired after new figures revealed that sales increased for the first time in years, an industry monitor has claimed.
Australia's so-called "plain packaging laws" were introduced 18 months ago but according InfoView, within the last year 59 million more cigarettes were sold – a 0.3 percentage point increase.
InfoView's research suggests that the graphic images on cigarette packages were counteracted by the price cut introduced by most manufacturers, which led to a rise in sales. Until last year, there had been a 15.6% decline in cigarette sales in Australia over a four-year period.
The figures appeared to undermine claims by the former Labor government health minister Nicola Roxon that Australia would have the toughest anti-smoking laws in the world after the policy was introduced in 2012.
However, the figures were disputed by Professor Mike Daube, president of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health.
"This is the typical approach taken by the tobacco industry," he told ABC NewsRadio. "They leak a report to a friendly journalist, with a history of opposing what he describes as the 'nanny state' and then they put it on the front page and it gets some legs.
"There are industry figures that show falls in tobacco sales and the chief executive of one of the biggest companies, Imperial Tobacco, in the half-yearly report for 2013, said the markets had declined by 2%-3% since plain packaging came in."
Professor Daube said the tobacco industry is keen to discredit Australia's plain packaging laws because other countries are considering similar policies.
Scott McIntyre, a spokesman for the British American Tobacco Australia, told The Australian: "From 2008 to 2012 smoking incidence, or the number of people smoking, was declining at an average rate of 3.3% a year. Since plain packaging was introduced, that decline rate slowed to 1.4%."
A Guardian analysis of figures presented in The Australian newspaper revealed that adjusted for the increase in population between 2012 and 2013, tobacco sales per person actually continued to decline, from 920.4 to 906.9 over those two years.