"But it Just Has That Sort of Feel About it, a Leper" - Stigma, Smoke-Free Legislation and Public Health

Deborah Ritchie, A. Amos, C. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


INTRODUCTION: The Scottish smoke-free legislation has had considerable success, with high compliance resulting in significant health benefits and the increased denormalization of smoking. International literature on the impact of smoke-free legislation has mostly focused on the success of such policies. Relatively little consideration has been given to the potentially negative, albeit unintended, consequences of smoke-free policies within different social and cultural contexts, in particular the increased stigmatization of smokers.

METHODS: A 3-wave longitudinal qualitative study in 4 localities in Scotland using repeat in-depth interviews. Participants comprised a panel of 40 current and recent ex-smokers, interviewed before and after implementation of the legislation in 2 socioeconomically advantaged and 2 disadvantaged localities in Scotland.

RESULTS: Smokers perceived the smoke-free legislation to have increased the stigmatization of smoking. By separating, albeit temporarily, those who were smoking from those who were not had led to increased felt stigma. This had led to a social milieu that fostered self-labeling and self-stigmatization by smokers of their own smoking behavior, even when they were not smoking. While there was little reported direct discrimination, there was a loss of social status in public places. Smokers attempted to ameliorate stigmatization by not smoking outside, reducing going out socially, joining in the stigmatization of other smokers, and/or acknowledging the benefits of smoke-free environments.

DISCUSSION: The unintended negative consequences of smoke-free legislation for some suggest that tobacco control strategies need to consider how smokers who experience increased stigma are supported by public health to address their smoking while continuing to create smoke-free environments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)622-629
Number of pages8
JournalNicotine and Tobacco Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2010


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