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« Stoptober’s ‘growing success’ explained | Main | You have to like Limerick: guest post by John Mallon »

Smoke and mirrors 

Stoptober, the 28-day quit smoking challenge, starts on Monday.

According to the Daily Mail:

Since launching in 2012, Stoptober has led to more than 1.5 million quit attempts in the UK.

In addition, a 2017 report by the University College of London has showed that quitting success rates in the UK are the highest they’ve been in at least a decade, up to 19.8 per cent for the first six months of 2017 and considerably higher than the ten-year average of 15.7 per cent.

The rise in quitting coincides with the growing success of the Stoptober public health campaign in the UK.

Growing success? That may be what Public Health England want us to believe but where is the evidence to support this claim?

In recent years I have written at length about Stoptober, noting the way Public Health England has moved the goalposts in order to maintain the illusion that their taxpayer-funded efforts have not been in vain.

For example, PHE used to invite smokers to register to take part in the annual ‘stop smoking challenge’.

But that was dropped when it was revealed that fewer people had joined in 2015 than in 2014. In fact, numbers fell by a whopping 15 per cent.

Curious to know how the 2016 campaign had been judged, I spent the best part of twelve months trying to get some information out of PHE.

Eventually, in October 2017, a full year after the event, PHE published the most rudimentary report (four pages), prompting me to write:

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.

Seriously, how do those figures support the claim that Stoptober has enjoyed “growing success”?

It’s true that smoking rates have fallen since the launch of Stoptober in 2012 but that period has also coincided with the rise of e-cigarettes which were not advocated by Stoptober until last year.

It’s a bit rich therefore for PHE to claim credit for the “rise in quitting”.

Needless to say, as Stoptober 2018 begins, there is still no evaluation report for last year’s campaign [see Update below]. Nor have I read any mention of the budget that has been allocated to the new campaign.

Keen for some information, I submitted a Freedom of Information request yesterday that read:

Please provide the following:

1. A full evaluation of the outcome of Stoptober 2017.

2. The full and final costs (including media costs) for Stoptober 2017.

3. The total sum, including expenses, that was paid to ‘celebrity quitters’ including actress Laila Morse and Coronation Street star Kym Marsh for their work promoting Stoptober 2017. (Please specify the names of any other ‘celebrity quitters’ used in the 2017 campaign.)

4. The projected costs for Stoptober 2018 including the projected media spend.

5. The cost of employing TV presenter Jeremy Kyle to promote Stoptober 2018.

6. The projected date for the publication of a full evaluation of Stoptober 2018.

If and when I get a response I’ll let you know.

Update: Well, this is curious.

I submitted my FOI request at 11:19 yesterday morning (Friday). I received no acknowledgement or confirmation of receipt.

Instead I have just discovered that the 2017 evaluation report was uploaded to the PHE website ... yesterday (although it’s not clear at what time).

Perhaps I should have checked before posting but that’s one hell of a coincidence, don’t you think?

I haven’t had a chance to read it yet but I will. Meanwhile you can find it here.

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Reader Comments (3)

Nobody takes any notice of this rubbish now, particularly here in the counties outside the metropolitan bubble, Everyone just gets on and enjoys their tobacco. Vaping is on the decline here too ! Back to the real pleasure : smoking good quality tobacco !

Saturday, September 29, 2018 at 16:34 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy Goodacre

The relentless anti-smoker persecution needs to end. Spending public money on virtue signaling exercises like Stoptober needs to end.

Sunday, September 30, 2018 at 17:49 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Interesting that this year there seems to be more Stoptober rubbish around than there was last year. Last year Stoptober seemed to get drowned out by Sober October - but I haven't heard anything about Sober October at all this year - no cheesy, happy-clappy adverts, no jingly tunes, no "people like us" exhorting us to eschew the booze. Have the Stoptober gang protested too much about the clash of timings ("We thought of it first, so there!)? I personally thought that Sober October was a better catchphrase than Stoptober, which has always struck me as a bit contrived. At least Sober October rhymed!

Monday, October 1, 2018 at 1:14 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

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