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Public backs tougher tobacco control to protect the young

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by Cancer Research UK | News

5 September 2008

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More than 8,000 people have written to the Department of Health calling for tougher tobacco control to protect young people and put tobacco out of sight and out of mind.

This comes as new Cancer Research UK findings from the University of Stirling reveal that the more cigarette brands young people can name, the more likely they are to smoke. In fact, for every cigarette brand a young person can recall having seen at the point of sale their chance of smoking increases by 35 per cent.

The calls for stronger legislation are being submitted alongside Cancer Research UK’s response* to the Government consultation on the future of tobacco control.

The charity believes that three measures – removing tobacco products from sight at the point of sale, removing cigarette vending machines and making plain packaging compulsory for tobacco products – should be adopted as part of a broader national tobacco control strategy.

More than 80 per cent of smokers start before the age of 19 and half of all long-term smokers will die of cancer or other smoking-related diseases. Around 22 per cent of the population currently smoke so new measures are needed to help reduce this figure and build on the success of last year’s smokefree legislation.

The prime location of point of sale displays still offer tobacco companies a key opportunity to promote the packs and the product. Beginning in 2003 most forms of tobacco advertising and promotion have been prohibited across the UK but this has not included restrictions on point of sale displays or on pack design. In response the tobacco industry has continued to develop displays in shops by using lighting, brand specific colours on surrounding areas and attention-grabbing designs as well as making the packs themselves even more enticing. These loopholes are having a dramatic impact on young people.

The tobacco industry claims that smokers need these displays to help choose their brand of cigarettes and that they are not designed to attract new smokers. However, Cancer Research UK evidence shows that only 6 per cent of smokers decide on which product to buy based on these displays. The overwhelming majority of smokers always buy the same brand.

The report also shows that tobacco related products – roll your own papers, lighters and matches – make use of a variety of marketing techniques that are prohibited for the marketing of tobacco. The techniques are increasingly targeted, directly or indirectly, at young people.

Many young people, particularly underage smokers, buy cigarettes from vending machines. Removing these machines altogether is the only effective means of preventing underage smokers obtaining cigarettes from these sources.

Professor Gerard Hastings, director of social marketing at the University of Stirling, said: “We know that the younger you are when you start smoking the harder it is to quit. Our research shows that the point of sale displays allow tobacco companies to package and market cigarettes with powerful brand imagery to entice new smokers. This turns the pack, or ‘silent salesman’, into a small advertisement and the wall of cigarettes into a big one. Children are still being exploited and ultimately, they will only be truly protected when tobacco promotion and marketing in all its forms ceases to exist.”

Scotland currently leads the UK with plans to introduce legislation in the coming year to remove the display of tobacco products at point of sale. This current consultation is for England but these measures to protect young people could also be introduced in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said: “We’ve come a long way – introducing smokefree laws and making it illegal to sell cigarettes to under 18’s – but the job isn’t done. The evidence is clear and strong support from the public is there – we need to put tobacco out of sight and out of mind to protect all young people. The Government has the opportunity to act with conviction and further reduce the devastating impact that tobacco has on so many lives.”

For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out of hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264059.