Packaging and health warnings are critical in discouraging youth use of cannabis.

Packaging and health warnings are critical in discouraging youth use of cannabis.

As more countries consider legalizing non-medical cannabis, new research suggests that prominent health warnings and less appealing packaging should be required to reduce the appeal of cannabis to children.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo discovered in a recent study that the amount of advertising and promotion provided on packages affects how people perceive the product—whether they think it’s fun to use, are interested in trying it, or believe it’s harmful.

“For a child entering the market and trying to figure out if cannabis is a product their friends would think is cool, and that they can project an image with it, that’s exactly what brand imagery and promotion does, especially on packages,” said David Hammond, a professor in the School of Public Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo. “As a result, if states or countries want to protect youth, our data suggest that packaging restrictions and comprehensive health warnings are effective ways to do so.”

“The more imagery legislators permit, the more appealing these cannabis products will be to the general public, particularly children.” It is up to governments to determine where the line should be drawn.”

The team of researchers gathered input from 45,378 randomized participants in Canada and the United States to determine the effectiveness of restricted brand imagery and information from governments in the form of health warnings on how cannabis products are perceived. Four branding conditions were presented to the participants, ranging from no brand imagery and uniform colors to full brand imagery. They were also asked to rate how appealing the products were based on perceived harm and how easy it is to remember warning messages about pregnancy, adolescent risk, and impaired driving.

The researchers discovered that reducing the amount of brand imagery had a minor impact on product appeal. Furthermore, when products had a white background with no or limited branding, they were rated significantly less harmful than when they had a colored background, and message recall was significantly higher for Canadian versus US health warnings.

“Canada’s warning messages on cannabis products are more visible and understandable than in the United States,” Hammond said. “Our findings also indicate that Canada’s comprehensive regulations appear to be achieving their goal of informing consumers about risks and reducing appeal, particularly among young people.”

The study, Influence of package color, branding, and health warnings on the appeal and perceived harm of cannabis products among respondents in Canada and the United States, will be published in the journal Preventive Medicine by Hammond, Samantha Goodman, Vicki Rynard, and Maryan Iraniparast.

Packaging and health warnings are critical in discouraging youth use of cannabis.

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