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New ways to promote quitting

There are lots of reasons for people to quit smoking. The two cited most often are the health benefits and the financial gains, but what matters most depends on the individual. For example, teenagers may not perceive their health to be at risk, but are likely to care about the effect smoking can have on their teeth and skin, whereas a newly married couple may be motivated more by the effect that quitting can have on fertility rather than the fire risk posed by cigarettes. And just as pharmacists have known for years that you have to find the right trigger to incentivise someone to stop smoking and — even more importantly — not start again, the Department of Health in England has decided that it needs to take a new approach to the issue.

So instead of the DoH running campaigns for individual issues, such as smoking cessation, exercise and healthy eating, it has decided to adopt an integrated approach to public health. The DoH explains: “Too often in the past the department has held separate conversations with the same people, one day talking to them about their diet, the next about their alcohol consumption, without recognising linked behaviours. The department is now tailoring its social marketing activities through the life course, so that at each stage in an individual’s life there is a trusted brand, providing all the information, support and resources, he or she might need.”

The DoH is dubbing this joined-up approach “a public health social marketing strategy”, and has appointed Freud Communications to look after creative public relations with MEC taking over media planning (that means placing ads in the national media). Both are giants in their respective fields, with Freud naming Sky, the London 2012 Olympics, Comic Relief, Nike and Asda among its many and varied clients, and MEC having done work for brands ranging from Bacardi and Barclays to cricket’s Indian Premier League and Ikea. Both agencies also have some experience in health, with MEC having worked with pharmaceutical companies Beiersdorf and Novartis, and Freud having seen the other side of certain public health issues through clients such as Mars, KFC, Pepsi and Diageo, manufacturer of numerous alcohol brands, including Guinness and Smirnoff vodka.

The agencies have been given some guidance in that the DoH has prioritised four public health issues, in order that the programme starts by targeting the greatest users of health services. The Smokefree programme is one such strand, with the others being Change4Life, which targets families and middle aged adults particularly on topics such as diet, exercise and alcohol consumption, older people, with a focus on general wellbeing and seeking medical attention promptly when needed, and young people, in particular tackling risky behaviours such as binge drinking, smoking and experimenting with sex and drugs.

Although it may appear strange that the DoH has appointed commercial agencies to run public health campaigns at a time of NHS cutbacks, it is worth remembering that it has done so for years. The difference now is the integrated approach that it is adopting, which it anticipates will deliver savings of around 25 per cent. Sheila Mitchell, DoH head of marketing adds: “Both MEC and Freud Communications will forgo a percentage of their fee if they don’t meet the targets set in their plans.” The finer details of the programme have yet to be released, but a spokesman for Freud confirmed that the agency would start “activating the campaigns very shortly”.

It is highly likely that the DoH campaign will make the most of newer platforms, such as smartphone apps and social media, as well as traditional media such as TV, cinema and poster advertising and leaflets. This was the approach adopted by the charity Quit in a recent campaign aimed at teenagers. The initiative centred around a cinema ad that depicted a girl visibly ageing as she smoked and was screened before the movie “50-50”, which was, fittingly, about a young man dealing with cancer. The ad was accompanied by an app called “Age Yourself” that involved users blowing cigarette smoke on an image of themselves on a smartphone and seeing it age instantly. Quit’s head of youth Mohammed Walji explains: “The teen market is such a hard market to reach as they believe they are invincible from the effects of smoking. Something that has the contagious value of an app is perfect for this group as it will not only allow them to see the effects personally but share with their peers.”

Quit has recently launched a similar initiative to heighten awareness of the damage smoking does to the lungs. The LungClock website and app ( gives smokers an estimate of their lung age to make them realise the physical damage their habit is causing, and is supported by a poster campaign run in Barnsley, an area with a high incidence of smoking-related disease. Ian Silver, Quit operations head explains: “Smokers who are told their lung age are twice as likely to succeed in smoking cessation programmes than the ones that don’t.”

Apps are now so popular that the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education ( has published a free guide called “Useful apps for pharmacy”. Of particular relevance for smoking cessation are the Health Facts and NHS Quit Smoking apps, both of which are free. And the NHS Smokefree initiative has embraced many platforms, with a presence on the social networking website Facebook, the ability to set up motivational test messages using the NHS Quit Kit, and a wealth of resources on its website ( including a number of interactive tools and MP3 downloads to help motivate quitters when their willpower is wavering.

Publicity campaigns are all well and good, but there is also legislation coming in that will reinforce the stop smoking message: from 6 April 2012, large shops will no longer be able to display tobacco products, and smaller retail outlets (such as corner shops) will be subject to the same restriction from April 2015. Although there won’t be a change in the way people can buy these products, the DoH says: “Ending open cigarette displays will help people trying to quit smoking and help to change attitudes and social norms around smoking.”

But Amanda Sandford, research manager for the charity Action on Smoking and Health, believes that the measures don’t go far enough, saying: “We don’t expect this to have a big impact on adult smokers who tend to be very brand loyal and don’t need to look at a shelf to request the product they want. Contrary to what the industry says in terms of anticipating a downturn in sales, in Canada where this ban is already in place the effect has been neutral.” However, where this legislative change will be effective is in protecting children, says Ms Sandford: “Since the tobacco advertising ban was introduced in 2003, tobacco companies have invested huge amounts of money in making packs their main advertising tool so they can be put on the shelf in blocks to increase brand presence. Children find these glitzy, glossy packs very appealing, especially as they are often next to the counters where they buy their sweets and comics, and it gives a completely misleading message about smoking. Putting them out of sight of children will hopefully put them out of mind.”

Citation: Community Matters URI: 11095463

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