Do branding and health warnings influence young people’s ideas about cannabis?

Apr 2021

What you need to know

Young people are more likely to find cannabis products appealing when the cannabis packaging has branding features. Brand imagery can influence people to associate cannabis with different and desirable lifestyles. Compared to males, females are significantly more likely to find branded products more appealing.

Health Warning Labels (HWLs) can make cannabis products less appealing to young people. The least appealing packaging for young people is unbranded packaging with an HWL.


What is this research about?

Previous research on alcohol and tobacco packaging has demonstrated that the appearance of a product influences initiation of use, level of consumption and brand loyalty.

Because Canada has legalized non-medical cannabis, it is important to understand the impact of cannabis packaging and marketing on consumer perceptions and behaviour. This research examined how different types of packaging, including the presence or absence of HWLs, affected young people’s perceptions of a cannabis product.

The researchers conducted a series of online experiments with Canadians aged 16–30, including both cannabis users and non-users. They showed participants different types of cannabis packaging and asked them how appealing they found the product. Participants were also asked what type of person they thought would use the product.

The different types of packaging included: plain packaging with and without HWLs; branded packaging with and without HWLs; and packaging that either referenced or did not reference flavour, energy, celebrity sponsorship, music, partying, fashion or an organic/natural product.

Participants were also asked whether they thought the products would be used by men or women; people older, younger or the same age as themselves; and people with the lifestyle descriptors of “health-conscious,” “fashion-conscious” or “likes to party.”

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that young people found cannabis products with branding more appealing than those without branding. In addition, young people felt that products with health warning labels were less appealing than those without HWLs.

Branding that included party references, music references or celebrity sponsorships was seen as targeted to a younger audience. These descriptions, as well as references to energy, resulted in the product being seen as part of a “party” lifestyle. Participants also perceived that fashion references were targeted toward females and “natural” descriptors were targeted toward health-conscious consumers. In addition, they viewed products labelled “natural” or “organic” as less harmful.

Regardless of packaging type, cannabis users viewed products as more appealing compared to non-users.

Limitations

The sample of youth who participated in may not be fully representative of Canadian youth. In addition, study results may not be generalizable to an older population. Finally, the order in which participants viewed the different types of packaging could have impacted their views.

How can you use this research?

Policy-makers can use this research to create marketing rules that consider the appeal of cannabis to young people. Public health professionals can also benefit from being aware of the impact of branding and HWLs on young cannabis consumers.

About the researchers

Cesar Leos-Toros1, Geoffrey T. Fong2,3, David Hammond.1

  1. Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  2. Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  3. Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

About this Research Snapshot

This Research Snapshot is based on the article “The efficacy of health warnings and package branding on perceptions of cannabis products among youth and young adults” published in Drug and Alcohol Review in 2021. https://doi.org/10.1111/dar.13240

Acknowledgements

This knowledge exchange activity is supported by Evidence Exchange Network (EENet), which is part of the Provincial System Support Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). EENet has been made possible through a financial contribution from the Ministry of Health (MOH). The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of either MOH or of CAMH.

While care has been taken in selecting and preparing the information included in this Research Snapshot, it is based on one research article. A comprehensive search was not completed to see if new evidence exists. As a result, the context behind the research, the terminology used, the research methods and the findings may not provide the full picture for this particular topic. Also, there might be a lag between when the study was conducted and when it was published, so it might not reflect the current evidence.

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The Cannabis Knowledge Exchange Hub is funded by Health Canada's Substance Use and Addictions Program. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Health Canada.