NEARLY two-thirds (63 per cent) of people in the UK back a move to get rid of the colourful and distinctive designs on cigarette packets according to a survey of more than 2,000 adults commissioned by Cancer Research UK.

The survey results are published today ahead of Australia’s historic step on Saturday, when it becomes the first country in the world to put all tobacco products in standardised packs.

Removing all branding and making all packaging a uniform size, shape and design - leaving only pictures depicting tobacco-induced disease - is under consideration by the Government. Health groups are backing the measure as a way to reduce the appeal of cigarettes to children.

Public support is claimed to be “overwhelming” on the general issue of reducing the number of young people who start smoking, with 85 per cent of people backing Government action to achieve it.

Parents of children aged four and younger were more likely than adults without children to support the Government in taking the action - 93 per cent versus 81 per cent.

Every year around 157,000 children aged 11 to 15 in the UK start smoking - enough to fill 5,200 classrooms or make up nearly 14,000 junior football teams.

Preventing young people from being tempted to try smoking is said to be vital, as eight out of 10 adult smokers start before they turn 19.

Paula Young, Cancer Research UK’s spokeswoman for the West Midlands, said: “These results highlight the huge level of public support for standardised packaging, along with the backing for efforts to bring down smoking rates.

“It’s important to remember the scale of harm caused by tobacco. It’s the single biggest preventable cause of death from cancer, causing more than a quarter of all cancer deaths and killing around six and a half million people in the UK over the last 50 years from cancer and other tobacco-related diseases.

“With so many children starting to smoke each year, the Government must show strong leadership to reduce the deadly lure of cigarettes.

“Smoking causes at least 14 different cancers as well as a long list of other illnesses, so it’s vital the Government introduces standardised packaging as soon as possible, giving millions of children one less reason to start smoking.”