Young people and women are identified as target groups to aim tobacco packaging at according to a new Cancer Research UK report released today (Thursday).

“This footage provides us with a chilling insight into how powerful branding and marketing can be. Children are drawn to the colourful and slick designs without having a full understanding of how deadly the product is inside the pack.” – Jean King, Cancer Research UK

The report – The Packaging of Tobacco Products – is published today alongside a hard-hitting short film that illustrates children’s attraction to the slickly designed cigarette packs. The report and film launch Cancer Research UK’s The Answer is Plain campaign, which is asking people to sign a petition to remove all branding from tobacco packaging.

The film shows powerful scenes of six to 11 year olds as they innocently discuss what attracts them to the brightly coloured and attractively designed cigarette packs*.

Children’s reactions to the packs include: “It makes you feel like you’re in a wonderland of happiness”, “The pictures actually look quite nice. Ice cubes and mint.”, “It reminds me of a Ferrari”, “Is that the Royal Sign?” and “Yeah. Pink, Pink, Pink”.

Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said: “This footage provides us with a chilling insight into how powerful branding and marketing can be. Children are drawn to the colourful and slick designs without having a full understanding of how deadly the product is inside the pack.

“It’s time to end the packet racket. Our research shows the value attached to packaging by the tobacco industry. And parents know first-hand that children are affected by marketing and branding, and when that marketing is attracting children to cigarettes, we need to give young people one less reason to start smoking.”

The new report reviews tobacco industry documents from over the last half century as the future of tobacco packaging is being considered in a Department of Health public consultation.

Several internal tobacco industry documents** describe how packaging has been developed to appeal to new smokers, notably teenagers, through its size, colour and design.

Professor Robert West, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco research at University College London, said: “The research evidence is compelling that cigarette packaging is attractive to young people. Once the young person tries smoking, nicotine has a chance to do its work in turning him or her into an addict. Only a quarter of those who smoke for a year succeed in stopping before it starts to take years off their lives***.

“Of course we can’t be sure how big an effect preventing tobacco companies from using packaging to attract smokers will have, but smoking is so dangerous that even a very small effect would save hundreds if not thousands of lives each year. And when the tobacco companies complain about freedom to promote their ‘legal’ products, let’s remember that if those deadly and addictive products were to be invented today there is no country in the world that would permit them to be sold at all.”

The report also shows that some brands of cigarettes are packaged to appeal specifically to women and others to men. Packs developed to target women are often designed to be long and slender, with pale or pastel colours indicating femininity, style, sophistication and attractiveness. Philip Morris’s research for the female Virginia Slims brand shows feminine packaging is acknowledged by women to look different from a traditional pack, and easy to carry in a purse****.

Eight focus groups of around 50 15-year-olds showed clear differences between boys and girls when asked to pick their favourite packs. Girls liked the female oriented Silk Cut and Vogue Superslims which suggests femininity and pleasure, such as perfume, make-up and chocolate.

The boys preferred the Marlboro Bright Leaf, Lambert & Butler and B&H slide packs which suggested maturity, popularity and confidence.


* The children were first shown cereal boxes and asked for their responses, then shown cigarette boxes and asked for their responses. The answers given were unprompted and unscripted.

** Cummings, K. M., Morley, C. P., Horan, J. K., Steger, C., & Leavell, N-R. (2002). Marketing to America’s youth: Evidence from corporate documents. Tobacco Control, 11, i5-i17.

*** West R, Fidler J (2011) Smoking and Smoking Cessation in England 2010. London: Vasco-Graphics. Available from

**** Carpenter, C. M., Wayne, G., F., & Connolly, G. N. (2005). Designing cigarettes for women: New findings from the tobacco industry documents. Addiction, 100, 837-851.

For more information visit The Answer is Plain campaign.

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