Glamorous cigarette packaging is tempting young people who have never smoked to take up the habit, research has suggested.
A study funded by Cancer Research UK found youngsters preferred novelty packaging from leading cigarette manufacturers to plain packs.
Research from the same department at the University of Stirling has found that putting graphic warnings on the back of cigarette packs had little impact on teenage smokers.
Their ability to recall images showing diseased lungs, rotten teeth and neck cancer was below 10 per cent, while three written warnings on the back of packs with no supporting images were recalled by less than 1 per cent of more than 1,000 teenagers.
The latest 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. Novelty packs included those with an unusual shape, colour or system of opening, while standardised packs were brown with only a brand name on them.
Researchers found children preferred colourful and novelty packs from top manufacturers.
They included Silk Cut Super-slim’s pack shape, the Marlboro 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 were the same ones who said they were more tempted to smoke, the study found.
In one example, those receptive to the Silk Cut pack were said to be over four times more likely to be susceptible to smoking than those who were not receptive to this pack. By contrast, plain, standardised packaging reduced the appeal of smoking.
In July, the UK government denied claims it had caved in to the tobacco industry after it put plans to introduce plain cigarette packaging on hold, to allow more time examining how similar plans worked in Australia.
Cancer Research UK said the delay meant the “tobacco industry is reaping the benefits of slickly designed packs that help to recruit new smokers”.
Some 570 UK children under 16 start smoking 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.”
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.
“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 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.”