More than a quarter of young smokers believe cigarettes in "glitzy" packaging are less harmful than other brands, a health charity has warned.
A report by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) found that just over 25% of regular smokers aged 16 to 25 thought a branded cigarette pack was less harmful than another based on the packet design alone.
More than three quarters of smokers and non-smokers of the same age group thought selling cigarettes in plain packs, with no colourful branding or logos and larger health warnings, would make it easier for people to smoke less or quit.
More than 2,700 young people were surveyed for the report and 415 of the group were considered to be regular smokers.
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."
Almost 90% of those questioned said they thought plain packets were less attractive than branded ones.
One in six said they would consider the pack design when deciding which cigarettes to buy, while one in eight said they would choose a brand because it was considered "cool".
The BHF is urging the government to introduce a tobacco plain packaging Bill into Parliament and for ministers to seek amendments to the EU Tobacco Products Directive.
The charity is sending copies of its report to all MPs inside a plain cigarette packet, like those used in Australia, with a short film showing young people's reactions to different types of packaging.
The government is due to launch a public consultation by spring 2012 on the issue.
The lobby group Forest, Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco, argued that the introduction of plain packs would have little impact on the number of young people who start smoking.
Simon Clark, director, said: "There is no evidence that plain packs will make any difference to youth smoking rates. The vast majority of young people are influenced not by packaging but by peer pressure and the fact that members of their family are smokers.
"Tens of millions of people have been exposed to branded cigarette packaging for decades and have never been encouraged to start smoking. To suggest that people are so easily influenced by the sight of a coloured pack is not only patronising, it's downright offensive.
"Plain packaging has nothing to do with youth smoking rates. It is just another step towards the denormalisation and eventual prohibition of a legal consumer product that is enjoyed by millions of adults and generates billions of pounds each year for the government."