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New year, new anti-smoking campaign

It's New Year so Public Health England has launched yet another anti-smoking initiative.

The "major integrated smoking cessation campaign" costs £1 million of your money and features a "hard-hitting" TV ad that "urges England's seven million smokers to try to quit this year with help from the NHS Smokefree services, which include face-to-face help, stop smoking aids, an app, social media and SMS support."

According to the press release issued by Freuds on behalf of PHE and parroted (without a single opposing comment) by the Press Association:

One person every minute is admitted to hospital with a smoking related illness. As such, on Friday 29th December Public Health England (PHE) will launch their latest hard-hitting Smokefree Health Harms campaign to encourage the nation’s 7 million smokers to give quitting smoking a go this New Year - please find the press release and more information below, including interview opportunities.

The campaign highlights how poisons from tar in cigarettes enter the bloodstream, spreading around the body within seconds and cause damage to major organs. As part of the campaign, a new video will be released, featuring Dr Dawn Harper, which sees 6 long-term heavy smokers (including TV presenter and entrepreneur, Hilary Devey), take part in a unique toxicology demonstration showing the impact of just three poisons released into the bloodstream with each cigarette.

I'm not a scientist so I've no idea whether any of this is true but it reminds me of a previous campaign that claimed that “Every 15 cigarettes you smoke will cause a mutation".

The Department of Health's 'mutation health harms' campaign was launched on television on December 28, 2012. According to the voiceover:

“When you smoke the chemicals you inhale cause mutations in your body and mutations are how cancer starts. Every 15 cigarettes you smoke will cause a mutation. If you could see the damage you would stop.”

We were extremely dubious about this claim and submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority. It was based on two counts: misleading information and the omission of material information.

Eighteen months later, after a tortuous investigation during which the ASA Executive upheld our complaint THREE times, the ASA Council took the unusual decision to ignore the recommendation of its own executive (which had commissioned a report from an independent expert) and side with the DH.

See At last, the ASA verdict on Forest complaint about DH "mutation" ad.

Meanwhile the new PHE campaign has been endorsed by lifelong smoker and former Dragon's Den star Hilary Devey who said:

“I’ve smoked at least 20 a day for over forty years. Like many, I’ve been hooked on cigarettes and ignoring the damage – even though I know the harm I’m doing, I’ve found it extremely difficult to quit for good. Even a stroke three years ago only led me to stop temporarily.

“Seeing the high levels of poisonous chemicals in my blood from these tests really hit home how dangerous continuing to smoke is – and for that reason, I’m done!

“I’m absolutely determined to try again this New Year and I hope other smokers across the country will join me making full use of all the free help available at Smokefree - this time next year we could be celebrating one year smoke-free and feeling the benefits.”

Could this be the same Hilary Devey who previously railed against smoking bans (on Room 101) and described a ban on smoking in cars as an "infringement of human rights" (TV Dragon speaks up for smoking)?

Or the same Hilary Devey who responded to a question from the London Evening Standard ("What would you do as Mayor for the day?") by saying, "Improve the smoking ban so that smokers could be accommodated indoors"?

OK, I appreciate her health problems may have changed her attitude to smoking (understandably so) but those comments were made at least two years after she suffered a stroke following an operation in February 2009. (If she suffered a further stroke "three years ago" that news eluded me.)

Ironically when she joined Dragon's Den in 2011 she also told Hello! magazine, "I was most nervous about meeting Duncan (Bannatyne) because everyone told me how anti-smoking he was and he told me so every day."

I was so convinced she might be a potential ally I invited her (twice) to speak at the Forest Freedom Dinner.

Her management company didn't dismiss the idea. Instead I was told, "She feels very strongly about smoking so I am sure she will look upon your [request] favourably."

That was in 2013. Sadly it didn't work out and Hilary is now a leading figure in a £1 million, publicly-funded, anti-smoking campaign.

Duncan will be so proud!

PS. Forest's response to the PHE campaign was reported by the Independent and the Daily Star.

According to the Star:

Simon Clark, director of smokers’ lobby group Forest, said: “It wouldn't be New Year without an anti-smoking campaign designed to scare smokers to quit.

“The new ad is a complete waste of public money.

“Smokers know there are serious health risks associated with smoking. They don’t need another alarmist TV ad to remind them.”

Update: The Daily Mail offers some further insight into Hilary Devey’s current mindset:

Hilary Devey has vowed to finally kick her 40-year smoking habit after a health scare made her question her lifestyle.

Even suffering a stroke in 2009 wasn't enough to stop the businesswoman and self-made millionaire from kicking the habit.

'I had a separate health scare earlier this year, which turned out to be a misdiagnosis, but it was enough to make me realise that I needed to change my lifestyle - and finally try to quit smoking for good,' she said.

Full story: Dragon’s Den star Hilary Devey, 60, vows to finally kick her 40-YEAR smoking habit after terrifying health scare.

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