The impact of plain packaging and health warnings on consumer appeal of cannabis products
Background: Canada was the first jurisdiction to implement ‘plain’ packaging regulations and rotating health warnings for cannabis products upon legalizing non-medical cannabis in October 2018. Research has demonstrated that plain packaging and health warnings are effective policy measures for reducing appeal of tobacco products; however, there is little evidence in the cannabis domain.
Methods: An experimental task was conducted as part of the online International Cannabis Policy Study survey. Participants from Canada and US (n=27,045, aged 16-65) were randomly assigned to see one of 18 cannabis product images. Outcomes were appeal and perceived youth orientation of the product. A 3 (branding: full branding, brand logo only, or plain black packaging) x 2 (health warning labels: present or absent) x 3 (product type: edible gummies, cannabis oil, or pre-rolled joints) factorial design was used. Linear and logistic regression models were used to test the influence of branding, health warning and product type on product appeal and youth orientation, respectively. Models were adjusted for key covariates (sex, age, ethnicity, education level, jurisdiction and cannabis use).
Results: Compared to plain packaging or a brand logo, packages with full branding were considered more appealing (p<0.001 for both) and more likely to be youth-oriented (p<0.001 for both). Products with health warnings were perceived as less appealing than packages without warnings (p<0.001). Compared to pre-rolled joints and cannabis oil, edible gummies were perceived as more appealing (p<0.001 for both) and more likely to be considered youth-oriented (p<0.001 for both). Additionally, edible gummies were rated as significantly more appealing by 16-18 and 19-35-year-olds than by older adults (p<0.02 for all).
Conclusions: Comprehensive health warnings and ‘plain packaging’ regulations may reduce the appeal of cannabis products in a legal market. The results also provide empirical evidence that edible products are more appealing among young people.