A new study has discredited the tobacco industry's assertion that there is no proof plain packaging on cigarette packs reduces the appeal of smoking.
Scientists from Canada, the United States and Brazil conducted a study of 640 young Brazilian women to determine if cigarettes had the same appeal when presented in plain packaging.
"The women in this study rated branded packs as more appealing, more stylish and sophisticated than the plain packs," said study leader David Hammond of the University of Waterloo, Canada.
"They also thought that cigarettes in branded packs would be better tasting and smoother. Removal of all description from the packs, leaving only the brand, further reduced their appeal. In the pack offer test, participants were three times more likely to choose the branded pack as a free gift."
British American Tobacco New Zealand (BATNZ) last month launched a print, television and radio campaign costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in response to the New Zealand Government's plan to strip all branding from cigarette packs to make them less attractive to smokers.
BATNZ's general manager Steve Rush said plain packaging created a "disturbing precedent" for other industries, adding that the British Government was considering a similar proposal for alcohol.
He said New Zealand should not "blindly follow Australia's lead" with policy he said was unproven in helping to curb smoking.
But the latest study adds to mounting criticism of such claims.
Professor Alistair Woodward, head of the University of Auckland's School of Population Health, said the findings fitted in with what had been observed elsewhere - that tobacco packaging affects the opinions and behaviours of smokers.
"The tobacco industry knows very well the value of brand packaging. This is why they have invested so heavily in design and illustration in the past, and why the industry now opposes plain packaging so vehemently," he said.
Janet Hoek of the University of Otago's Department of Marketing said the paper added to the growing evidence base supporting the plain-packaging measure.
"Overall, this study reinforces earlier work showing how plain packaging will reduce perceptions of smoking and diminish the benefits smoking is perceived to deliver.
"In addition, New Zealand research has found that plain packaging not only affects smokers' perceptions, but influences their choice behaviours - significantly fewer select 'plain' packages - and likelihood of making a quit attempt." Health Minister Tony Ryall said last month that BATNZ was "wasting its money" on its campaign.
He believed New Zealanders were turning against tobacco companies and their marketing strategies.
"New Zealanders have moved on from being influenced in this way. There is a lot of support for what the Government is doing in tobacco."
The Ministry of Health has put out a consultation paper on plain packaging and expects to report back on the findings on October. The Government has agreed to support the policy change in principle.