The vast majority of UK adults [84 per cent] think children should be protected from marketing by tobacco companies, according to new research by Cancer Research UK.
Four out five people believe tobacco marketing is harmful to children, while more than two thirds agree that eye catching logs, colourful and distinctive branding on packets make cigarettes more appealing to children.
The findings from the YouGov poll of 4,099 adults come during the government’s consultation on whether to ban distinctive cigarette packaging and force companies to introduce standardised packets, featuring prominent health warnings instead.
Health campaigners argue that cigarette packets have become the tobacco industry’s main marketing tool in recent years, leading them to invest millions of pounds in stylish designs in order to entice children into smoking their brand. The tobacco industry argue that the proposed regulations are anti-business, and say there is little evidence that plain packaging will produce health benefits.
Smoking accounts for over 100,000 deaths ever year in the UK alone, and costs the NHS at least £5bn annually.
Campaigners point to a mountain of evidence which strongly suggests youngsters are particularly vulnerable to marketing tactics. Four out of five smokers start before the age of 19.
Interviews carried out by CRUK show young people respond positively to brightly coloured and slickly designed packs. One in four parents and grandparents of children under the age of 18 said branded good were important to the child.
An international study published in Addiction last year found that smokers wrongly believe certain words such as the names of colours, and long, slim cigarettes mean the brand is less harmful.
Australia is the first country to pass plain packaging legislation, which will be implemented this December.
The law is being challenged in the country’s courts by five tobacco giants including Philip Morris, and British American Tobacco and some member countries of the World Trade Organisation, accusing the government of illegally confiscating intellectual. The Australian government argues that its public health concerns trump any business interests.
The EU is also looking at plain packaging which if enacted, could drive down prices and cost companies billions of pounds in profits.
The importance of branding is clear. Imperial Tobacco’s CEO, Alison Cooper, last week told the Financial Times: “Our focus on [packaging] innovation is about brand differentiation and giving customers a reason to smoke our product at a particular price point than someone else’s.”
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of campaign group ASH, said: “If the tobacco companies seriously believed that plain packaging ‘would not work’ in reducing child smoking as they claim publicly, then they would not be putting so much effort into countering this measure. The unfounded claim that plain packaging will result in an increase in illicit trade is a red herring to detract from the fact that putting an end to colourful glitzy packaging will make cigarettes far less appealing to children.”
Jan Sheward, 67, an ex-smoker and breast cancer survivor, lost her husband Eric, a heavy smoker, to oesophageal cancer. Jan started smoking in secret when she was 14.
She said: “I think cigarette branding has a huge influence on young people. I know firsthand… I smoked Benson and Hedges but when I could afford to, bought a more glamorous brand, a long maroon packet called Dunhill which made me feel glamorous and sophisticated… it’s vitally important we give children one less reason to start smoking.”
Sarah Woolnough, CRUK’s director of policy, said: “This is not about ‘the nanny state’ or ‘corporate freedoms’. This is about us as a society saying that it is wrong for tobacco – a product that kills half of all its long term users – to be marketed to children as though it were a bag of sweets.”
Last week, a Bristol-based NHS body, Smokefree South West, set up to tackle smoking in the region, said it was being bombarded by an overwhelming number of by Freedom of Information requests from organisations funded by the tobacco industry.
Forest, the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco, deny the allegations.
The health minister Andrew Lansley has said that he is keeping an “open mind” until the consultation has been completed. The deadline for submissions is 10 July 2012.
Jaine Chisholm Caunt, Secretary-General of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association said: “It is a sad state of affairs when reporting that adults know that children like bright colours is presented as compelling research. There is already comprehensive legislation in place within the UK, including the Tobacco Advertising and Protection Act 2002 and the Health Act 2009, that prevents children from seeing tobacco branding.
“This emotive appeal to the nation’s heartstrings attempts to disguise the hard fact that there’s no credible evidence that packaging encourages children to start smoking – as highlighted in the recently published Systematic Review of Evidence.”
He added: “The TMA and member companies are committed to preventing under 18s from starting smoking and continuing to reduce the current 5 per cent rate of youth smoking.
“However, we feel the best way to do this is to enforce existing laws and prevent children’s access to cigarettes, rather than speculating on the appearance of the pack.”Reuse content