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Study targets cigarette packaging, smoking behaviour

Cigarette packages with warning labels are shown. A Dalhousie researcher is looking at how plain packaging on cigarettes affects smoking habits.
ERIC WYNNE • THE CHRONICLE HERALD
Cigarette packages with warning labels are shown. A Dalhousie researcher is looking at how plain packaging on cigarettes affects smoking habits. ERIC WYNNE • THE CHRONICLE HERALD - The Chronicle Herald

Cigarette packages are about to get really boring in Canada. Except for those graphic warning labels.

New federal legislation will prohibit promotional information and branding, including logos. That means every pack of smokes will look the same, although they will bear different warnings and photos illustrating the health risks of smoking.

“When you basically get rid of that branding, there’s nothing more to look at except for the warning,” said addictions researcher Mohammed Al-Hamdani, which presumably would make the product less appealing and reduce smoking rates.

Al-Hamdani is putting that assumption to the test in a study as part of his post-doctoral work at Dalhousie University.

The project, which began last week, focuses onthe specific connections between a smoker’s attention to packaging and their behaviour. In a controlled laboratory setting, they will be exposed to different types of packaging, including four popular brands, as well as plain packaging and altered packaging.

“The package will be right in front of them, right next to an ashtray,” he explained. “So the key here is . . . you’ve picked this cigarette from this particular package, now what does your smoking behaviour look like?”

The researchers also will use eye-tracking technology that can pick up on exactly what part of the packaging is drawing the smoker’s attention.

Al-Hamdani is looking for about 80 adult smokers who have smoked at least once a month in the past year. He will also take note of personality traits, smoking rates (daily, nicotine-dependentbehaviour compared to nondependent smoking) and other variables.

Funding for the study comes from a fellowship Al-Hamdani was awarded through the Mitacs Elevate program. These grants support a project that is a collaboration between a university and an organization, in this case Dalhousie and the Lung Association of Nova Scotia.

“The lung association is interested in the results because it would influence what their messagingwould be on this particular

topic,” Al-Hamdani said, noting that Nova Scotia has the highest rate of smoking in Canada atabout 20 per cent. “That’s one reason there should be more and more focus on tobacco control research, research that looks at how different types of policies and different types of variables influence smoking.”

Those interested in participating in the study can contact him at 902-494-3793 or email mh825846@dal.ca.

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