We investigate a three-dimensional Ising action which corresponds to a class of models defined by Savvidy and Wegner, originally intended as discrete versions of string theories on cubic lattices. These models have vanishing bare surface tension and the couplings are tuned in such a way that the action depends only on the angles of the discrete surface, i.e. on the way the surface is embedded in Z3. Hence the name gonihedric by which they are known. We show that the model displays a rather clear first-order phase transition in the limit where self-avoidance is neglected and the action becomes a plaquette one. This transition persists for small values of the self avoidance coupling, but it turns to second-order when this latter parameter is further increased. These results exclude the use of this type of action as models of gonihedric random surfaces, at least in the limit where self avoidance is neglected.