“Fancy,” “posh” and “pretty” – these are all words used by children in Cancer Research UK’s new video to describe a selection of current cigarette packets. Looking at one of the packs, a little boy says: “I think it would be quite fun to play with. It makes you almost happy looking at it.”
For most of us the idea that children are attracted to these deadly products is simply shocking.
Cancer Research UK statistics show that more than 4,000 people died of lung cancer in Scotland in 2010.
This risk of developing this devastating disease increases significantly in smokers and is just one of the cancers that can be the consequence of an addiction that is promoted to women as being glamorous and to men as offering maturity and popularity.
There is much we can do to prevent a new generation of children from starting to smoke in the first place.
The ban on smoking in public places has gone a long way to help Scots kick this deadly habit, but much more needs to be done to stop a new generation of children growing up as addicted adult smokers. The next step is to introduce plain and unattractive cigarette packaging so that fewer children are tempted to take their first steps towards tobacco addiction.
The UK government is currently discussing whether to replace the brightly coloured and slickly designed packs with ones of uniform size, shape and colours, with large picture warnings on the front and back. The move to bring in plain packaging like this is something Cancer Research UK strongly supports and we believe it will help reduce the appeal of tobacco to young people.
We also know that public opinion is behind us on this issue. A YouGov poll released by Ash Scotland just last week showed two thirds of Scots questioned were behind a move to introduce plain packaging. We think public support will be further boosted by Cancer Research UK’s new report which refers to documents from the tobacco industry that show that packaging has indeed been developed to specifically appeal to new smokers, through size, colour and design. This is significant when you consider that eight out of ten smokers start before the age of 19 years.
Take Rosa Macpherson, for example. This Alloa lady and ovarian cancer survivor started smoking at the age of 12 and she remembers choosing a brand of cigarettes that were presented in a glamorous looking pack. It was a further 35 years before Rosa managed to escape the shackles of a habit that was started so easily all those years earlier.
Sadly, Rosa lost her father to smoking related illnesses and so she knows only too well the damage the products inside the glitzy packs can do. The packaging helps hide and distract from the truth that tobacco will kill half of all long-term smokers.
As a mother, Rosa understands the importance of protecting future generations of children from a product full of poisons that harms those who smoke as well as those around them. That’s why she has signed our The Answer Is Plain petition and is urging other Scots to follow suit.
Loud and outraged voices will inevitably argue against changing tobacco packs, voices that will say there is no evidence this will reduce smoking rates, that this isn’t legal, it’s the nanny state gone mad, this will turn the UK into a smugglers’ paradise.
We say that tobacco is uniquely dangerous. There is no safe level of smoking. Smoking kills and we should be doing all we can to make sure that the power of advertising is not used to lure another generation into a lethal addiction.
Some people may also question why we – a research organisation – are supporting plain packaging. It’s simple: our mission is to beat cancer, and smoking is the single biggest preventable cause of the disease.
Unbranding cigarette packets won’t stop everyone from smoking but it will give millions of children one less reason to start.
– To support our campaign to end the packet racket and sign our petition, visit www.theanswerisplain.org
Vicky Crichton is Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager