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Article | Tobacco Branding, Plain Packaging, Pictorial Warnings, and Symbolic Consumption

Abstract:  We use brand association and symbolic consumption theory to explore how plain cigarette packaging would influence the identities young adults cocreate with tobacco products. Group discussions and in-depth interviews with 86 young adult smokers and nonsmokers investigated how participants perceive tobacco branding and plain cigarette packaging with larger health warnings. We examined the transcript data using thematic analysis and explored how removing tobacco branding and replacing this with larger warnings would affect the symbolic status of tobacco brands and their social connotations. Smokers used tobacco brand imagery to define their social attributes and standing, and their connection with specific groups. Plain cigarette packaging usurped this process by undermining aspirational connotations and exposing tobacco products as toxic. Replacing tobacco branding with larger health warnings diminishes the cachet brand insignia creates, weakens the social benefits brands confer on users, and represents a potentially powerful policy measure.

Citation: Hoek, J., Gendall, P., Gifford, H., Pirikahu, G., McCool, J., Pene, G., Edwards, R., & Thomson, G. (in press).  Tobacco branding, plain packaging, pictorial warnings, and symbolic consumption. Qualitative Health Research, published online 27 December 2011 DOI:10.1177/1049732311431070.