Teenagers see slim-line cigarettes as cool and even safer than other brands. New research shows tobacco companies' efforts to make their products look stylish and attractive is working.
In a survey by Cancer Research UK, 15-year-olds said slim and superslim brands were 'cute', 'classy' and 'nicer'. In contrast, they regarded brown-tipped cigarettes as 'smelly and disgusting'.
Now the charity is urging the public to support its campaign for plain standardised packaging of cigarettes with a hard-hitting film showing how the tobacco industry encourages children to smoke.
The film, launched online today, uses shocking images of children which at first appear to be filmed overseas but are, in fact, here in the UK. It is a powerful evocation of big business preying on vulnerable children.
The children in the study rated the slimmer brands weakest and least harmful because their thin diameter contained less tobacco.
In fact some super slim brands have more tobacco-specific harmful nitrosamines and aromatic amines than regular cigarettes.
The study asked 48 boys and girls from Glasgow about their views of eight cigarette brands differing in length, diameter, colour and decorative design.
One 15-year-old girl said: "Because it's skinny you feel that you're not doing as much damage. "
Another said: "They don't look like cigarettes so you wouldn't think, like, harmful."
And a 15-year-old boy added: "If someone hands you a stronger or a weaker one you'd probably take the weaker one depending on how long you'd been smoking for... so they're just jumping into the shallow end instead of the deep end, kind of thing."
The study found that teenagers thought white tips and a longer length portrayed a cleaner, feminine image reminiscent of glamorous female stars from old movies – softening perceptions that smoking was harmful.
Cigarettes with white tips were also associated with menthol - perceived as weaker and less harmful.
Professor Gerard Hastings, Cancer Research UK's social marketing expert at the University of Stirling and an author on the paper, said: "Our research confirms previous studies that both the pack and the product are powerful marketing tools in the hands of the tobacco industry which it is using to recruit a new generation of smokers. It's time policy makers moved to standardise both."
Dr Allison Ford, lead author of the study and also from the University of Stirling, said: "This important study reveals for the first time that adolescents associate slim and decorative cigarettes with glamour and coolness, rating them as a cleaner, milder and safer smoke. It is incredibly worrying to hear that adolescents believe that a stylishly-designed cigarette gives a softer option."