News & Comment

Children and young people "hoodwinked" by cigarette packaging, says British Heart Foundation

Thu 29th December, 2011

People are being hoodwinked by glitzy cigarette packaging with more than a quarter of young smokers making health assumptions based on branding, according to a new report.  

Just over 25 per cent of 16-25 year-old regular smokers surveyed for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) believed one branded cigarette pack was less harmful than another based on the packet design alone.

The report, which includes survey responses from more than 2,700 16-25 year-old smokers and non-smokers, reveals three quarters 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. 

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 overwhelming 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. 

Betty McBride, director of policy and communications at the British Heart Foundation, said: "As informed adults we know that 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."

A UK survey found 87% of teenagers and young adults thought plain cigarette packs were less attractive than branded ones. One in six (16%) said they would consider pack design when deciding which cigarettes to buy, while one in eight (12%) admitted choosing a brand because it was "cool".

Commenting on the survey, the lobby group Forest argued that the introduction of plain packs would have little impact on the number of young people who start smoking.

Simon Clark, director, said: "There is no evidence that 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 that members of their family are smokers.

"Tens of millions of people have been exposed to branded cigarette packaging for decades and have never been encouraged to start smoking. To suggest that 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 that is enjoyed by millions of adults and generates billions of pounds each year for the government."

The BHF is calling on the Government to introduce a tobacco plain packaging Bill and for prominent picture health warnings on cigarette packets.

Last month the Australian government decided to make standardised plain packs for cigarettes mandatory from December 2012.

Sources: British Heart Foundation, Press Association, Daily Mirror (29 December 2011)

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