YOUNG people on Wearside are being attracted to cigarettes because of glitzy packaging, according to a charity report.
A fifth of under-25s in the North East said pack design is one of the things they consider when choosing which cigarettes to smoke, whereas one in 10 chose brands that are thought of as “cool”, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) survey found.
More than 13 per cent of 16 to 25-year-olds in the region said they believed that a branded cigarette pack was less harmful than another, based on the design alone.
Eighty-five per cent said they felt plain packs were less attractive than branded packs, which the BHF feels, if addressed, could deter more youngsters from keeping up the habit.
Betty McBride, director of policy and communications at the BHF, 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 it if we really want to protect younger generations from taking up this fatal habit.”
The BHF is now asking the Government to introduce a tobacco plain packaging bill into Parliament, and for ministers to seek amendments to the EU Tobacco Products Directive, which would mean the introduction of large front-of-pack picture health warnings.
The Government is due to launch a public consultation in the spring on whether the UK should adopt plain packaging for tobacco products.
Ailsa Rutter, director of anti-smoking group Fresh, Smoke Free North East, 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.”
The charity wants people to register their support for plain packaging at www.bhf.org.uk/plainpackaging.