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« Farewell to Freedom Dinner fully booked | Main | At last! The Stoptober 2016 campaign evaluation report »

Public Health England? They're having a laugh (at our expense)

Further to my previous post I've now read the long-awaited Stoptober 2016 campaign evaluation.

It didn't take long. If you exclude the cover, credits and contents, it amounts to just four pages.

God knows I appreciate brevity, but four pages?!!

Two of the four are devoted to 'Background', one and a half are described as an 'Overview', and there's a short three-paragraph 'Summary'.

And, er, that's it.

So what does the evaluation, which I first enquired about twelve months ago, tell us about Stoptober 2016? Very little, as it happens, apart from one startling admission:

Our modelling estimates that total incremental campaign driven quit attempts were 124,500 versus 385,000 in the previous year [2015] ...

In other words, the estimated number of smokers driven to attempt to quit as a result of Stoptober 2016 was a third of the number in 2015. And there is of course no evidence that they succeeded in quitting.

However, even the estimated figure is odd because I wasn't aware of any 'modelling' for Stoptober 2015. What we were told – by Public Health England in a press release issued on October 30, 2015 – is that 'over 215,000 smokers signed up to this year’s Stoptober'.

No mention there of 385,000 'campaign driven quit attempts' in 2015 so why include the figure in the 2016 evaluation?

More notable perhaps was the fact that in the press release that followed the conclusion of Stoptober 2015 Public Health England chose to ignore the fact that the number of smokers who signed up that year was 15 per cent lower than in 2014.

Few people would have been any the wiser had it not been for journalist Peter Russell who wrote an online report ('Fewer people joined Stoptober smoking challenge') that I linked to here.

Curiously, you may think, that article is no longer available on the website although Peter Russell continues to write for it.

Anyway, back to the Stoptober 2016 campaign evaluation. Confusingly:

Reported quit attempts were maintained at 2015 levels with 16% of all smokers reporting the key action of a Stoptober quit attempt.

Eh? One minute they're saying "campaign driven quit attempts were 124,500 [in 2016] versus 385,000 in the previous year", the next they're saying "reported quit attempts were maintained at 2015 levels". Which is it?

Leaving this aside, if there's a dominant theme in the report it's funding, or lack of. Frankly the four-page 'evaluation' is little more than a prolonged whinge about the budget and a plea for more money in 2017:

In 2016, competing priorities led to a significant budget reduction for Stoptober. Most notably, media spend was reduced from £3.1 million in 2015 to £390,000 in 2016 (an 87% reduction).

Given the lower budget, the strategic approach to delivering the campaign needed to evolve considerably.

Given the scale of the budget reduction in 2016, the Stoptober campaign performed well.

While the budget for PR declined by 20%, coverage remained very strong.

While the key campaign metrics (such as brand awareness and visibility) have been positive relative to the reduced budget, Stoptober was delivered at a smaller scale with lower absolute levels of visibility and awareness.

If future investment is maintained at 2016 levels the long-term health of the brand and participation can be expected to erode.

Hilariously it's no longer about the health of the nation. It's all about the 'health of the brand'!

In conclusion the evaluation declares:

Stoptober 2016 was successful in driving campaign cost efficiency, but this was done at the cost of reduced overall scale. Our modelling estimates that total incremental campaign driven quit attempts were 124,500 versus 385,000 in the previous year, but that three-year return on investment was £4.22 versus £3.42 in the previous year.

The campaign in 2016 has benefited greatly from four years of previous sustained investment. Without this it is likely that brand awareness and other key metrics in 2016 would have been lower.

The results suggest that Stoptober 2017 will start from a lower base of awareness, meaning that, without greater investment in 2017, Stoptober is likely to shrink further and more rapidly.

Incredibly this wafer-thin evaluation took a whole year to enter the public domain, and only after regular cajoling by Forest. Would they have published it without our persistence? I suspect not.

Clearly however there has been plenty of lobbying behind the scenes because, as we now know (thanks to another Forest FOI request), Stoptober 2017 was given a substantially increased budget with media spend rising from £390,000 in 2016 to £1.08 million in 2017.

Whether it was spent wisely and what the results were we'll have to wait and see. If the 2016 report is any guide, expect the Stoptober 2017 campaign evaluation to be published at the back end of October 2018.

But whether the media spend budget is £390,000 (2016), £1.08m (2017) or £3.1m (2015), it's taxpayers' money and I see very little in this report to justify the use of any public money on a glorified PR campaign whose 'success' seems to be judged less on actual quit smoking attempts and more on media profile.

As for Stoptober 2017 embracing e-cigarettes, am I the only person to be rather cynical about this belated move?

While it's true that Public Health England has been an advocate of e-cigarettes as a quit smoking tool for a couple of years now, I suspect the real reason Stoptober 2017 jumped on the vaping bandwagon is because it will allow the campaign to claim credit for the general reduction in smoking rates, especially if smoking cessation continues to be driven not by Stoptober support tools but by smokers switching to e-cigarettes (ie non-Stoptober support tools).

It certainly wouldn't be the first anti-smoking initiative to claim credit for quit smoking attempts that are largely unrelated to the campaign in question.

Anyway, I think I've dredged as much as I can from this. If I'm finding it boring I can't imagine what it's like for you. If you've read this far, well done!

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Reader Comments (3)

"Would they have published it without our persistence? I suspect not."

They probably knocked it together specifically for you, after they twigged you weren't going to shut up about it :-)
What a pile of kack

Friday, November 3, 2017 at 13:55 | Unregistered CommenterBucko

Thank you for demonstrating the outright fraud perpetrated by by Public Health England and the 'Stoptober' campaign. Their report documents their fraud and lies. Perhaps the Crown Prosecution Service would be interested in this egregious example of waste, fraud, and abuse.

Friday, November 3, 2017 at 17:16 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Another example which demonstrates that anti-smokerism costs the state far more than smoking. Smokers are so few in number now, and just want to be left alone without further coercion, harrassment and exclusion, so the time is right for govt to rethink funding these vested interests political campaigns and started putting the money into the direct patient care that smokers' taxes are supposed to fund for the benefit of everyone.

Friday, November 3, 2017 at 18:16 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

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