Teens 'tempted' by novelty packets
Glamorous cigarette packaging tempts young people who have never smoked to take up the habit, research suggests.
A Cancer Research UK-funded study found youngsters preferred novelty packaging from leading cigarette manufacturers to plain packs.
It comes after research earlier this month from the same department at the University of Stirling found that p utting graphic warnings on the back of cigarette packs had little impact on teen smokers.
That study found that teenagers' ability to recall images depicting diseased lungs, rotten teeth and neck cancer, was below 10% while three written warnings on the back of packs with no supporting images were recalled by less than 1% of more than 1,000 teenagers.
The new research, published in the journal BMJ Open, examined the reactions of 1,025 UK children aged 11 to 16 who had never tried smoking.
They were given three different types of cigarette packs: regular, novelty and plain, standardised packs.
Novelty packs included those with an unusual shape, colour or system of opening, while s tandardised packs were brown with all branding removed apart from a brand name.
Researchers found that children preferred the colourful and novelty packs from leading manufacturers.
They included Silk Cut Superslim's slim pack shape, the Marlborough Bright Leaf pack which opens at the side in the style of a Zippo lighter, and Pall Mall's bright pink pack.
Children who liked these packs were the same children who said they were more tempted to smoke, the study also found.
In one example, those receptive to the Silk Cut pack were over four times more likely to be susceptible to smoking than those who were not receptive to this pack.
In contrast, plain, standardised packaging reduced the appeal of smoking to the youngsters.
In July, the Government denied claims it had caved in to the tobacco industry after it put plans to introduce plain cigarette packaging on hold.
A decision has been delayed so more time could be spent examining how similar plans were working in Australia.
Ministers had also been keen to go ahead with plain packaging after the Department of Health held a consultation last year.
Cancer Research UK said the delay meant the " tobacco industry is reaping the benefits of slickly designed packs that help to recruit new smokers".
Almost 570 children under-16s start smoking in the UK every day.
Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: "This study provides further evidence that the more attractive the tobacco packaging, the more likely children are to be tempted to light up their first cigarette - the first step to a deadly addiction which will kill half of them if they become long-term smokers.
"The Government must protect children from the lure of sophisticated marketing and show its priority is the health of young people, not the profits of the tobacco industry.
"We urge the Government to introduce plain, standardised tobacco packaging to reduce the number of young people who take up smoking."
Professor Gerard Hastings, Cancer Research UK's social marketing expert at the University of Stirling, said: "This research continues to build the case to protect vulnerable children from the might of the tobacco industry's marketing.
"The UK must follow the lead of Australia and introduce plain, standardised packs as soon as possible.
"Meanwhile we mustn't overlook the likelihood of the tobacco industry to seek new marketing opportunities within the pack, and to develop soft looking and special coatings to sex-up packs.
"The tobacco industry is desperately turning to any measures available to peddle its products and secure profits from the smokers of the future.
"We must act now to de-glamorise this deadly habit."
Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest, said: " This research is no basis for legislation. The opinions are subjective and the results are hypothetical because what children say and how they behave in practise are two totally different things.
"Most children start smoking because of peer pressure or the influence of family members. There is no credible evidence that plain packaging will have any long term impact on youth smoking rates."