Objective We aimed to assess change in cigarette pack retrieval time in small retail outlets following the introduction of plain packaging in Australia in 1 December 2012.
Methods A sample of 303 milk bars, convenience stores, petrol stations and newsagents was selected in four capital cities, stratified by area socioeconomic status. In June and September (baseline months), the first 2 weeks of December 2012, and February 2013, stores were visited by trained fieldworkers who requested a cigarette pack of a pre-determined brand, variant and pack size, unobtrusively recording the time from the end of the request to when the pack was scanned or placed on the counter.
Results In multivariate analysis, December retrieval time (12.43 s) did not differ from June (10.91 s; p=0.410) or February (10.37 s; p=0.382), but was slower than September (9.84 s; p=0.024). In December, retrieval time declined as days after plain packaging implementation increased (β=−0.21, p=0.011), returning to the baseline range by the second week of implementation. This pattern was not observed in baseline months or in February. Sensitivity analyses showed that results were robust to the variability in purchasing circumstances in tobacco retail outlets.
Conclusions Retailers quickly gained experience with the new plain packaging legislation, evidenced by retrieval time having returned to the baseline range by the second week of implementation and remaining so several months later. The long retrieval times predicted by tobacco industry-funded retailer groups and the consequent costs they predicted would fall upon small retailers from plain packaging are unlikely to eventuate.