Dalhousie researcher wins award for work that finds plain cigarette packaging is effective

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WATCH: Plain packaging on cigarettes makes smokers think twice about the health effects, and plays a role in reducing smoking. As Alicia Draus reports, that's the result of a study by a Dalhousie University researcher, and he's being awarded for that work today – Nov 26, 2019

A Dalhousie researcher will be presented with an award in Ottawa Tuesday for his research into the effectiveness of plain cigarette packaging as a smoking deterrent.

The award is being presented by Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada for business and academia.

READ MORE: This is what Canada’s new cigarette packages will look like

Working with professor Sherry Stewart in Dalhousie’s departments of psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience, as well as the Lung Association of Nova Scotia, Dr. Mohammed Al-Hamdani’s work found that Health Canada’s format for plain cigarette packaging is an effective deterrent for smokers with a predisposed fear of illness.

“Plain packaging is all about diverting the attention of the consumer from the area that would normally include the branding to the graphic warnings,” said Al-Hamdani.

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“It’s about having that opportunity to absorb the health warning on the package and think twice before smoking.”

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New Health Canada regulations took effect on Nov. 9 that require all cigarette packages to be standardized.

The standardized packages eliminate logos and instead make brown the default colour for tobacco brands.

“At an attention level, all smokers will benefit from plain packaging in terms of increased attention to graphic warnings,” said Al-Hamdani.

The government of Canada has introduced the Tobacco Products Regulations (Plain and Standardized Appearance), which came into effect Nov. 9. Reynold Gregor / Global News

For his work, he had 50 adult smokers participate in a study. To start, they completed an eye-tracking task to determine whether plain packaging increased their attention to health warnings.

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After that, they took part in two randomized sessions where they were provided with plain and branded cigarette packages. The individuals were free to smoke as little or as much as they wanted. The study found that smokers who were predisposed to fear illness actually smoked less when presented with plain packaging.

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Al-Hamdani says the findings are significant because they support the implementation of plain packaging.

“The whole idea is to dissolve brand loyalty, brand identity and to get the consumer to focus on one thing and one thing only, that is the graphic warnings,” he said.

“It will reduce the rate of smoking aggressively — we’ve seen that in Australia. There’s no reason to not expect the same [here], so it will save lives and make Canadians healthier.”

Al-Hamdani believes that plain packaging should also be extended to vaping products, but says at this point warnings would likely only be in text format rather than a graphic one.

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“Because the amount of evidence we know with respect to the harms of vaping is less when it comes to vaping in comparison to tobacco.”

READ MORE: Nova Scotia health groups recommend legislative action on youth vaping

Health Canada has already proposed new regulations to strengthen requirements for labelling and packaging of vaping products, which include mandating child-resistant containers and a toxicity warning.

Al-Hamdani says now that he’s completed this research on tobacco packaging, he’s moving on to vaping.

“I’m currently working on a large-scale vaping project that looks at youth and young adult vapers in the province,” he said.

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