Thursday, July 19, 2012

No smoking gun

Peter van Onselen had a column in the Sunday Telegraph in which he contends that the aim of plain packaging of tobacco products is at odds with Wayne Swan’s budget forecast of excise revenue from tobacco.

Along the way he distances himself from the term “nanny-state” while suggesting that plain packaging is a nanny-state thing.  Go figure.

But I’m not so much concerned here with van Onselen’s strained polemics against nannyism as I am that he seems to have verballed Health Minister Tanya Plibersek in such a way as to bolster his argument. He wrote:

Just last month, Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said she was “confident that plain packaging will reduce the number of smokers”.

Whereas according to the transcript of the program in which van Onselen interviewed her, Plibersek in fact told him:

Well, we are confident that plain packaging will reduce the number of smokers in the future. [my emphasis]

Van Onselen, like so many who take issue with plain packaging, just does not get that the primary aim of plain packaging is to deter young people from ever taking up the deadly habit. It’s success therefore probably wouldn’t be evident in the shorter term, and therefore would probably have negligible budgetary impact for at least the first few years.

Yet, van Onselen plods on regardless...

It stands to reason that if the government seriously expects smoking rates to decline when plain packaging legislation comes into effect, there would also be an expected decline in tax revenue.

Yet according to the forward estimates in the budget, Treasurer Wayne Swan is relying for his much-anticipated return to surplus in 2012-13 on a largely unchanged windfall from smokers. It’s the same story in subsequent years.

I think that van Onselen might be being somewhat like a dog with a bone on this.  Or maybe I haven’t properly followed his diabolically clever argument? At any rate, I tweeted him a query last night regarding his omission of Plibersek’s qualifier... but no reply thus far.

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