University evidence used in High Court decision to allow plain tobacco packaging

Implementation of plain packaging for cigarettes and loose tobacco went ahead on schedule (Friday, 20 May 2016) after last week's ruling from the UK High Court, which found in favour of the Department of Health.

The ruling relied partly on two key pieces of peer-reviewed research from the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University to conclude that evidence submitted by the tobacco industry to the public consultation on plain packaging ‘generally fell below best practice’ as it was not peer-reviewed, bench-marked against internal documents, did not make use of global literature and was not verifiable.

The research papers, published in BMJ Open and PLOS Medicine in 2014, had found that tobacco industry evidence:

  • was of significantly lower quality than research supporting the measure;
  • used techniques, such as misquoting, to encourage government and the public to question the quality of the evidence supporting standardised packaging;
  • failed to include evidence showing the central importance of packaging in marketing their products - evidence which is present in internal tobacco company documents made public via litigation;
  • did not consistently and transparently disclose their links to the evidence they cited.

Lead author of one of the papers, Dr Jenny Hatchard, said: "Our research showed that tobacco company claims that plain packaging “wouldn’t work”, would increase the illicit trade in tobacco and would damage the economy were largely unfounded and based on low quality research.

"The High Court decision is an important moment for plain packaging and the positive impacts it will have on health.  However, it also sends an important message that public health legislation cannot and should not be undermined by the poor quality evidence and opposition tactics of powerful corporations whose products damage our health."

The research is funded by Cancer Research UK and the National Institutes of Health in the US.  The Tobacco Control Research Group is a member of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies.

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