Introduction: In the United Kingdom, with most marketing channels prohibited, packaging is one of the few remaining ways that tobacco companies can promote their products.
Methods: An online survey with young people aged 10-17 years (N = 658) was used to explore why youth choose cigarettes, perceptions of pack color, and perceptions of plain (nonbranded) cigarette packaging. Young people were also shown an image of 3 plain packs, which differed by shape and method of opening, and asked which they liked most and thought others their age would smoke.
Results: Price and what significant others smoke were key factors for choosing cigarettes, with packaging also an important influence. More than a third of the sample associated lighter pack color with weak tasting and less harmful cigarettes. Plain packs were rated negatively as were perceptions of plain pack users. One in 3 showed a preference for either a narrow "perfume type" plain pack or a plain "slide" pack that opened from the side, and 1 in 3 also thought that young people would smoke these packs.
Conclusions: Packaging appears to both attract young people and mislead them about product strength and relative harm. Innovative pack construction (novel pack shape and method of opening) and the use of color are instrumental in these effects. The findings therefore suggest that any move to plain packaging should not only consider the benefits of removing branding (including color) but also of standardizing pack construction in terms of shape and method of opening.