Background: The aim of this study was to explore in-depth the response of young women smokers (18-35 years) to using dark brown 'plain' cigarette packs in naturalistic settings.
Methods: Participants were recruited in six towns and cities in Scotland to take part in a naturalistic study, where they used plain cigarette packs for a week. Participants completed a number of questionnaires during the study period (reported elsewhere), and a sub-sample participated in post-study telephone interviews to explore their experiences of using the plain packs. Of the 187 participants who completed the study, 23 were randomly selected to participate in the post-study interviews. Within the interviews a semi-structured topic guide was used to assess perceptions of the plain pack, feelings created by the pack, feelings about smoking, and avoidant and smoking behaviour.
Results: The brown (plain) packs were perceived negatively due to the colour, the undesirable image the pack conveyed, and the reaction from others. The plain packs were also associated with negative feelings, such as embarrassment, discomfort and guilt. Some participants also commented that they felt differently about the product, considered to be less enjoyable or more harmful, when using the plain packs, and were less interested in, or felt more negatively about, smoking. A number of participants said that they had engaged in avoidant behavior with the plain packs, such as hiding it, due to their negative thoughts about the packs and the reaction of others. Some participants also mentioned cessation-related behaviours when using the plain packs, such as forgoing cigarettes, stubbing cigarettes out early and thinking about quitting, largely due to the decreased enjoyment of smoking.
Conclusions: The experience of using cigarettes in plain packs prompted a range of negative responses from young women smokers, who are a crucial target group for tobacco control interventions.