Government hopes to ‘provoke disgust’ with £3m anti-smoking push

The Department of Health is reigniting its turn of year anti-smoking campaign with a £3m push designed to “provoke disgust” among viewers.

Video: Smokefree Heath Harms ad from PHE


This year’s ”smokefree” initiative from the DoH’s executive body Public Health England communicates the “new news” that smoking can be linked to damage to the brain, as well as other major organs such as the heart and lungs as toxins travel through the body.

It follows research published in the New England Journal of Medicine which found smokers are twice as likely to die from a stroke than non-smokers as it can cause the arteries to narrow.

The campaign launches on 30 December and centres around a TV ad, created by Dare, showing how smoking “dirties the blood” that then travels around the body affecting the organs, which are shown in a dark close-up. PR activity will also communicate how smoking can lead to strokes and cognitive decline. The initiative will continue to be supported by pharmacies and smokers will still be able to order “quit kits” online.

The push follows last year’s “distressing” £2.5m campaign which drew 165 complaints from viewers but was later cleared by the Advertising Standards Authority. 

PHE marketing director Sheila Mitchell told Marketing Week there is a “fine line” between achieving cut-through and generating complaints: “This is not a ‘return to shock advertising’ [as we know people said of last year’s campaign], because we know that can be a turn off for people. Instead we want to provoke disgust, a kind of Pavloivian repulse trigger in people.”

Mitchell hopes the campaign will be “on par” with last year’s success rates. She says last year’s spike of activity correlated with 300,000 incremental quit attempts and about 60,000 “four-week quits”, according to NHS data.

The new activity also follows PHE’s second multi-million pound “Stoptober” initiative. PHE spent “slightly less” on Stoptober marketing activity compared to 2012 but it was “on a par” with last year, Mitchell said, with 250,000 people registering to take part, 500,000 quit kits ordered and 1.5 million visits to the dedicated website. 

She added: “Stoptober worked really well this year and we’re hoping if we keep doing it every year it will become part of the national calendar.”

PHE says smoking costs the NHS £2.7bn and kills nearly 80,000 people in England per year.

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