It’s Complicated: Examining Smokers’ Relationships With Their Cigarette Brands

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Despite increased restrictions and taxes, decreased social acceptability, and widespread awareness of the harms of tobacco use, many in the U.S. continue to smoke cigarettes. Thus, understanding smokers’ attitudes and motivations remains an important goal. This study adopts the consumer psychology concept of brand relationship to provide a new lens through which to examine smokers’ attitudes about their cigarette use. Twelve focus groups (N = 143) were conducted with adult cigarette smokers from September to November, 2013. Using a semistructured moderator guide and “top of mind” worksheets, the discussion examined participants’ attitudes toward (a) their own cigarette brand and (b) tobacco companies in general. Data were coded and analyzed following principles of thematic analysis. Adult smokers reported positive attitudes toward their cigarette brand, as their brand was strongly associated with the positive experience of smoking (e.g., satisfying craving and relief from withdrawal). In contrast, thinking about tobacco companies in general evoked negative reactions, revealing overwhelmingly negative attitudes toward the industry. Findings reveal a complicated relationship between smokers and their cigarette brand: simultaneously embracing their cigarettes and rejecting the industry that makes them. Taken together, these data suggest smokers maintain largely positive brand relationships, diverting negative feelings about smoking toward the tobacco industry. Finally, they highlight the synergy between branding and the subjective smoking experience, whereby positive brand attitudes are reinforced through withdrawal relief. Ultimately, this information could inform a more complete understanding of how smokers interpret and respond to tobacco communications, including marketing from their brand.

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