29/12/2011 05:56 GMT | Updated 27/02/2012 05:12 GMT

How Children and Young People Are Hoodwinked by Cigarette Packaging

If you're a smoker it's not something you generally want to publicise around the BHF. The clear links with heart disease mean it's an issue we campaign on regularly and vociferously.

But I don't mind admitting that when I was young and impressionable I once dabbled with tobacco, sneaking a puff from a friend's cigarette behind the bushes at the local 'rec' to make sure I looked 'cool'.

I knew smoking was bad for health in a very general sense but my curiosity to try it and fit in was far stronger.

Our latest report shows that children and young people react to smoking in the same way I did, unappreciative of the full extent of the health harms and charmed by image tobacco firms portray of smoking being trendy.

Packaging is a key component - and in fact the last bastion - of tobacco advertising in the UK. While more traditional adverts have been rightly banned, cigarette packs covered in attractive colours, branding and images still speak to young people.

With around 200,000 children and young people in England starting smoking each year, and more than two thirds of the UK's existing 10 million smokers started before they turned 18, it's critical we close this advertising loophole and protect our children and young people from getting hooked on a lifetime's addiction.

Proving the power of branding, more than a quarter of young regular smokers we surveyed thought one branded pack was less harmful than another based on the packet design alone. The reality is that all cigarettes contain harmful toxins, tar and carbon monoxide.

Our survey also showed that one in six young people would consider the pack design when deciding which cigarettes to buy while one in eight said they'd choose a brand because it was considered 'cool'.

We're campaigning for 'plain packaging', which has no colourful branding or logos and has larger health warnings.

A total of 87% of young people in our survey said plain packs were less attractive than branded packs, and more than three quarters said they thought selling cigarettes in plain packs would make them easier for people to smoke less or quit.

The Australian government has already said cigarettes will need to be sold in plain packs from the end of 2012, and our UK government will be launching a public consultation in the spring on whether we should do the same.

I'd urge anyone who wants to help protect the health of our future generations to support our campaign by signing our petition in support of plain packaging. If you need any further proof of the sway cigarette packs hold over young people, watch our short film to see the difference in their reactions to branded and plain packs.