YOUNGSTERS in South Tyneside are being hoodwinked by glitzy cigarette adverts, say anti-smoking campaigners calling for plain packaging to be introduced.
More than 13 per cent of 12 to 25-year-olds surveyed by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) say they believed a branded cigarette pack was less harmful than a plain one – despite the reality being that the contents of both packages are as dangerous as each other.
Findings from the BHF’s report have been published ahead of a Government consultation on whether the UK should adopt plain packaging for tobacco products.
The report revealed that 79 per cent of young people in the North East thought 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.
Almost a fifth (18 per cent) said they’d consider the pack design when deciding which cigarettes to buy.
Betty McBride, director of policy and communications for the BHF, said: “As informed adults, we know that smoking is a deadly addiction.
“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 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 act if we really want to protect younger generations from taking up this fatal habit.”
Eighty-five per cent of those questioned in the North East thought plain packs were less attractive than branded ones, and 63 per cent of those surveyed agreed that cigarette packaging was a form of advertising.
Ailsa Rutter, director of tobacco lobbying group Fresh, said: “We are fully supporting the call for plain tobacco packaging as branded packaging is one of the tobacco industry’s leading promotional tools, recruiting children and young people to a lifetime of addiction.
“The majority of North East smokers start around 15-years-old and we are particularly seeing smoking become prevalent among young women, who are being targeted by the tobacco industry with new slimline cigarettes in a bid to exploit and encourage an obsession with fashion and staying slim.
“Glamorous packaging helps to attract new customers. If it didn’t the tobacco industry wouldn’t spend millions of pounds developing new designs.”
In November, the Australian Government agreed cigarettes need to be sold in standardised plain packs of the same colour without any logos or branding imagery. They will also include large picture health warnings on the front and back of the packs, which will be mandatory from December next year.
The British Government is now due to launch a public consultation on whether the UK should adopt plain packaging for tobacco products.
The BHF will be asking for a plain packaging bill to be introduced into Parliament, and for ministers to seek amendments to the EU Tobacco Products Directive, enabling large front-of-pack picture health warnings.
The charity is sending copies of its report to all MPs inside Australian-style plain cigarette packets in the new year, and is asking members of the public to register their support for plain packaging at www.bhf.org.uk/plainpackaging.