Children and young people are being hoodwinked by cigarette packaging, according to new research by the British Heart Foundation.
The charity’s survey of 2,700 16-25 year-old smokers and non-smokers, found over 25% per cent of regular smokers believed one branded cigarette pack was less harmful than another based on the packet design.
And three quarters of those surveyed think selling cigarettes in plain packs – with no colourful branding or logos, and larger health warnings – would make it easier for people to smoke less or quit, the study found.
But smokers’ lobby group, FOREST (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco), has criticised the Foundation’s call for plain packaging for cigarettes.
Responding to the charity’s report, FOREST said the introduction of plain packs would have little impact on the number of young people who start smoking.
Director Simon Clark said: “There is no evidence plain packs will make any difference to youth smoking rates. The vast majority of young people are influenced not by packaging but by peer pressure and the fact members of their family are smokers.
“Tens of millions of people have been exposed to branded cigarette packs for decades and have never been encouraged to start smoking. To suggest people are so easily influenced by the sight of a coloured pack is not only patronising, it’s downright offensive.
“Plain packaging has nothing to do with youth smoking rates. It is just another step towards the denormalisation and eventual prohibition of a legal consumer product enjoyed by millions of adults and generates billions of pounds each year for the government.”
According to the British Heart Foundation’s report, one in six (16%) said they’d consider the pack design when deciding which cigarettes to buy while one in eight (12%) said they’d choose a brand because it was considered cool.
The majority (87%) thought plain packs were less attractive than branded packs, and shows how plain packaging could make a significant difference in deterring young smokers, according to the charity.
British Heart Foundation director of policy and communications, Betty McBride, said: “As informed adults we know smoking is a deadly addiction that kills half of all smokers. But young people are not always fully aware of the risks, and the power of branding holds more sway.
“Tobacco advertising is rightly banned in the UK. Yet current glitzy packaging clearly still advertises tobacco on the cigarette box. It’s an absurd loophole the tobacco industry takes full advantage of to lure in new young smokers. We must close if we really want to protect younger generations from taking up this fatal habit.”