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Monday
Oct012018

Stoptober’s ‘growing success’ explained 

Well, that was odd.

No sooner had I submitted a Freedom of Information request on Friday concerning the whereabouts of the Stoptober 2017 evaluation than said report was posted on the government website.

It probably wasn't in response to my email, which was sent at 11:19 in the morning, but it was a hell of a coincidence that the evaluation should be published on the same day.

That said, the 2016 evaluation was only published on 26 October 2017 (twelve months after the campaign ended) after an FOI and follow-up emails from me, so I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

More important, what does the evaluation tell us about Stoptober?

First, it explains why PHE is spinning Stoptober as a “growing success”. Compared to 2016, last year’s campaign was indeed an improvement if you accept the key performance indicators.

According to the 2017 evaluation there were several reasons for this but the principal one was money:

In 2016, competing priorities resulted in a significant media budget reduction (from £3.1 million in 2015 to £390,000 in 2016) for Stoptober. This in turn drove a radical rethink in media strategy and a digital only approach was taken in contrast to the usual multi-channel approach in previous years.

As expected, the budget decrease resulted in reduced awareness of Stoptober (there was a reduction in campaign recognition from 71% in 2015 to 48% in 2016). Additionally, and as a likely consequence of the digital only approach, Stoptober 2016 participants were slightly more upmarket (they were more likely to be socio-economic group ABC1 versus C2DE) and younger than in 2015.

As a result of the above, the 2017 Stoptober budget was increased. The total campaign budget was increased to £2.1 million, with the media budget increasing to £1.2 million. Traditional media, including TV and radio, were added back into the mix.

So with the media budget increased by over 300% in 2017 (compared to 2016), what happened? Well, according to PHE:

The Stoptober 2017 campaign performed well; in line with the increased spend. The campaign met or exceeded all of the key campaign targets for brand awareness, quit attempts and sustained quit attempts. The campaign also managed to reverse the trends in 2016 by rebalancing the demographic profile and re-engaging lapsed Stoptober participants.

Based on a tracking survey of 700 current and recent ex-smokers aged 16-74 in England, the 2017 evaluation states that:

  • quit attempts met the target of 16% of smokers and recent ex-smokers reporting a quit attempt as a result of Stoptober
  • sustained quit attempts (% smokers and recent ex-smokers reporting still not smoking after one month) increased from 6% in 2016 to 8% in 2017.

That, then, explains the "growing success" of Stoptober. Take the worst year ever (2016), increase the budget by 300%, reverse the trends set the previous year, and job's a good 'un.

But that's not all. According to PHE there's another, equally important, indicator of success - brand recognition and campaign awareness:

Reflecting the increased spend and reintroduction of traditional media into the strategy, Stoptober brand recognition was 76%, meeting the target of 75% and improving on the 2016 result of 67%. This brought brand awareness back to similar levels to 2015, where awareness reached 80%.

Campaign awareness also improved compared to 2016. 6 in 10 smokers and recent ex-smokers (58%) recognised at least one element of Stoptober 2017 campaign activity, up from 5 in 10 (48%) in 2016.

That, I think, gets to the heart of Stoptober. It's as much about brand recognition and campaign awareness as it is about quit smoking attempts.

In other words it's a marketing exercise and the main beneficiaries are not smokers who want to quit but the PR and advertising agencies who pick up the media spend, up to £1.2 million in 2017.

One thing that should perhaps concern PHE is something I observed on Twitter yesterday. With the arrival of yet another public health campaign, SoberOctober, some people seem to be confusing Stoptober for an alcohol-focussed initiative.

How's that for campaign awareness?!

Saturday
Sep292018

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.

Friday
Sep282018

You have to like Limerick: guest post by John Mallon

Above: Forest’s John Mallon at Ocean FM in Sligo. John is currently touring Ireland, spreading the message that the high rates of excise duty on tobacco are “punitive” and “immoral”. He writes:

Some observations on the tour so far.

Last week in Kilkenny my eyes were drawn to a notice on the hotel entrance door. In big bold print it instructed, 'No smoking and no vaping either'. It was all 'strictly this' and 'absolutely forbidden that'. Tongue in cheek at check-in I alluded to the sign and asked if there was any particular way they wanted me to sit on their chairs.

They have no sense of humour in that part of the country, as I discovered on check-out. I was asked if I had enjoyed my stay with them. Truthfully I said I had but I objected strongly to their condescending attitude to smokers and vapers.

The receptionist told me it was the law and I countered that vaping was not against any law of the State. "Vaping," she spat. "Sure, that's even deadlier than smoking." So, a word of advice to all readers. If you should find yourself anywhere near a certain hotel in Kilkenny, don't dare vape or smoke, particularly during the shooting season.

In contrast, in Limerick I had finished my full Irish breakfast but wanted to leave my coffee briefly and go outside with my e-cig before returning for a second cup. Not only did the waitress tell me it was fine but she led me to a small garden adjacent to the breakfast room and even went back inside and brought me my coffee. When she saw the e-cig she added, "You should be allowed to have that inside." You have to like Limerick.

At the hotel in Tipperary they had a covered garden style area off the main bar and before I turned in I saw several people scattered around four tables. They smoked and drank unselfconsciously as they chatted and there was a glass ashtray on each table. This morning at 6.45 I noticed the area had been cleaned and swept and the ashtrays emptied, washed and placed back on the tables. Most of the time elsewhere they seem to like to let the smoking area look dirty and unkempt so full marks to the Clonmel Park Hotel.

I spent my first night of the tour in a room over a pub in a small village. They had six rooms for hire and I detected the lovely scent of freshly smoked cigarettes while upstairs. In the bar below four patrons were vaping, I noticed, which allowed me to sport my new red e-cig after dinner. The guest house clientele and the pub customers were all working men in overalls and my guess is that only starting a fist fight would really be frowned upon there. Smoking and vaping would be way down their list of no-no's.

I've done six of these tours to date but this one has been entirely different. I am well used to being confronted and baited by angry presenters as they attack me for defending smoker's rights. The ad hominem goading has always been an unpleasant feature of past tours, as has the listeners' complaints that I am on-air in the first place.

For the first time ever I am being welcomed into each and every studio like some sort of prized celebrity. I have been treated with curtesy and respect and encouraged to have my say. The conversations were cordial throughout and I was not the butt of any personal attacks.

I can offer no reason for this whatsoever. I haven't changed one iota and if anything I am tending to be more grumpy as the years go by. But I will say, it is positively spooky/friendly out there this year!

Guest post by John Mallon

See also: Travel story - on the road with John Mallon

Thursday
Sep272018

Travel story

Quick update on John Mallon’s #TaxBreakTour of Ireland.

As I wrote here last week, our man in Cork is currently taking to all corners of the country Forest’s message that current levels of excise duty on tobacco are "punitive" and “immoral”.

To give you an idea of the nature of these annual tours, here - in John’s own words - are his thoughts before we began planning this year's schedule:

Starting from Cork, I normally begin a tour by travelling to Tralee, Co Kerry, the night before with a view to an interview with Radio Kerry sometime between 0900 and 1300 on Monday, Day 1. It depends what slot we can get.

Then I drive into Limerick county to stay in a pub B&B in Foynes. This leaves me close to Live 95FM in Limerick City the next morning early on Day 2, Tuesday. Clare FM can then be reached by lunchtime on Tuesday and I then head further north to Galway overnight.

It's Galway Bay FM the following morning on Day 3, Wednesday, and then there's a choice. Either go north east to CRC FM, a community radio station in Castlebar, or head north west to Shannonside FM in Ballyhaunis. Either way it’s north again to Sligo Town overnight with Ocean FM the next day, Day 4, Thursday.

On the morning of Day 4 there's a decision to be made. Do I go north to Highland Radio, Donegal (and that can be a three hour drive), or go south east to Shannonside FM in Longford. If I go south I would then head to Tullamore overnight with Midlands FM on Friday morning, Day 5. If possible I can then head east to Naas for a lunchtime/Friday afternoon slot (maybe?). That puts me south of Dublin on the motorway to Cork.

If however I had to go to Highland Radio the day before I would be facing a 300-mile journey on Friday through backroads to Cork - that alone is a day's work. In fact one year I did that trip during a storm and was eleven hours behind the wheel before I got home.

The second week begins in Waterford overnight Sunday with a view to a breakfast slot on WLR FM first thing Monday, Day 6. I then head north to Kilkenny. It would be great if I could get a lunchtime slot with KCLR as I could swing back to Clonmel overnight and a slot on TippFM the next day, Day 7.

However Kilkenny could end up being Day 7 instead. If so I would head to Bray and East Coast FM on Day 8. I would then propose heading over the Wicklow Mountains to Naas overnight on Day 8. Day 9 would then include Tipp FM on the way back to Cork for Day 10 and 96FM plus Red FM.  

Inevitably the schedule is slightly different each year. Flexibility is key.

This year John began week one in Tralee where he was interviewed on Radio Kerry. He then travelled by car to Ennis (Clare FM), Galway (Galway Bay FM) and Sligo (Ocean FM). A further scheduled interview, with Midlands FM in Tullamore, fell through because it clashed with a major ploughing event!

This week John drove to Waterford (WLR FM) on Monday, then travelled to Limerick (Limerick’s Live 95FM) on Wednesday. He also did a phone interview for Cork’s 96FM (rescheduled from Friday last week). Today he’s in Tipperary for an interview with Tipp FM at 11.00am.

I should add that John isn’t working alone. Setting up all these interviews is PR consultant Jacqui Delbaere who has worked with Forest on various campaigns going back to 2005 when she worked for a PR company just around the corner from our office in Margaret Street, close to Oxford Circus.

It’s worth mentioning that on previous tours a major bone of contention has been finding hotels that have designated smoking rooms. In 2015 I wrote:

I'm looking forward to reading John's tour report but meanwhile here's a taste. If you're planning a holiday in Ireland, look away now. He writes:

“I phoned two hotels in Clonmel and got a snotty 'no smoking' policy read to me. Ennis was even worse. I asked two hotels the direct question, ‘Would you prefer smokers didn't stay at your hotel?’ and incredibly both said YES!!!”

In Galway John tried “many” hotels but “none of them offered a bedroom with smoking allowed”. Forced to book a room on the second floor of a resolutely non-smoking establishment he told me:

“I'm paying top dollar for a nice room and the food is OK too. But the issue is that I don't feel at home. I don't even feel welcome.

“I sense by their actions that they'd prefer if I wasn't a smoker. I have a card in the room that invites me to rate my stay and I know what I'd love to write on it.”

The ‘good’ news this time around is that John no longer requires a smoking room because - shock horror - he quit smoking twelve months ago and is now vaping so that’s one less problem, for him at least.

(I understand that vaping is often banned in hotel bedrooms too but the chances of being 'caught' are far less, I would imagine.)

Anyway it means I no longer have to suffer John’s indignant reaction when he would arrive in Dublin for a meeting or event and discover we'd booked him a room in a non-smoking hotel.

Smokers, eh?

Tuesday
Sep252018

Fewer smokers want to quit – official

For years we’ve been told that 70 per cent of smokers want to quit.

I always had my doubts about that figure. Former Labour health secretary John Reid, who was once a 60-a-day man and represented one of Britain’s poorest constituencies where there was a high proportion of smokers, reckoned it was more like 30 per cent.

Either way, my argument has always been that there’s a huge difference between wanting to quit and supporting government intervention designed to force people to quit.

I base this on the fact that while I would like to lose weight, I am strongly opposed to regulations designed to force or even nudge me to lose weight.

And I reckon I’m not alone.

Anyway, back to that 70 per cent figure. Have you noticed that Public Health England has adjusted it to six in ten?

It’s still a substantial figure but it’s interesting that the public health lobby is having to acknowledge the fact that as smoking rates fall the percentage of smokers who say they want to quit is also in decline.

My guess is that if and when the smoking rate falls below ten per cent the number of smokers who say they want to quit will be in a minority, even according to ‘official’ figures.

And if and when the UK hits that mythical ‘smoke free’ moment (a smoking rate of five per cent or less), only a very small minority of smokers will say they want to quit.

At that point what possible reason could there be for further anti-smoking measures? After all, many of today's policies (smoking bans, punitive taxation etc) are justified on the grounds that because most smokers 'want to quit' they need government 'help' to do so.

If however the majority of smokers do NOT want to stop, that argument becomes redundant.

But, don't worry, I'm sure they'll think of something else.

Sunday
Sep232018

Politics and publishing

Yesterday I published a couple of entries from the diary that Iain Dale started and then abandoned after a few months in 2002.

Iain is now a successful broadcaster and political commentator but at that time he was running a bookshop in Westminster – no mean feat but lacking the same public profile.

Politico’s was a short walk from Forest’s office in Palace Street near Victoria Station and I would pop in from time to time to browse and have a coffee in the tiny mezzanine cafe that overlooked the main bookshop.

As the name suggests, the shop specialised in books about politics. But it also had some more quirky items.

It was a niche market but I liked the quiet, unhurried atmosphere. It offered respite not only from London’s busy streets but the occasional madness of working for Forest.

Sadly the decision to close the cafe removed much of its appeal.

I can’t remember the first time I spoke to Iain. It must have been when I became editor of Freedom Today, the Freedom Association’s monthly magazine which was on sale in Politico’s alongside some equally curious periodicals.

Prior to becoming director of Forest I had edited a number of magazines over a 20-year period and I was keen to keep my hand in, so when the opportunity arose to edit and produce Freedom Today I grabbed it.

I’m not being immodest (OK, I am) when I say that my colleague Jo Gaffikin and I improved Freedom Today beyond all recognition. And Iain recognised that because he told me.

It encouraged me to approach him with a proposal for a new magazine that would help promote the books he was selling.

I was motivated too by the fact that Forest had previously ‘sponsored’ a monthly soirée of writers and journalists at the Academy Club in Soho where I had met a number of authors.

The Academy Club was the brainchild of Auberon Waugh who was then editor of the Literary Review.

Much as I liked Bron, who died in January 2001, I wasn’t a huge fan of the magazine which I found a bit dull, even in his hands.

The proposal I put to Iain was for a quarterly publication that combined book reviews with interviews, features and forthcoming events.

With his impressive list of contacts, and the natural desire of authors (if not their hopeless publishers) to promote their latest book, I was confident it would work.

Iain took a bit of persuading but eventually agreed. We called it The Politico and launched it in April 2002 with a drinks party attended by MPs, journalists and friends.

The first issue featured Labour’s Mo Mowlam. Subsequent editions included interviews with Jeremy Paxman, Gyles Brandreth, Tony Benn, David Davis, Adam Boulton (Sky News), Sandy Toksvic and several more.

Feedback from readers, including customers (who got a free copy), was very positive. There was only one problem. The Politico never lost money but it never made a profit either.

Printing costs were covered by a small amount of advertising but no-one (including the editor!) was paid a penny.

It was a lot of work for no reward apart from the satisfaction of meeting some interesting people and producing a magazine that people seemed to enjoy.

Unknown to me, however, Politico’s had more immediate problems, including the threat of a substantial rent increase, and Iain was looking to sell the business.

The reaction to The Politico had been sufficiently positive however that we actually discussed what in hindsight seems a ridiculously ambitious project - launching a rival to the Spectator (with the help of Associated Newspapers, owners of the Daily Mail).

As Iain wrote in his diary:

Monday 21 October
Had a meeting with Simon Clark this afternoon. The main thing to come out of it is an idea to put to Associated Newspapers about launching a rival to The Spectator. Could be interesting.

Friday 25 October
Had lunch yesterday with Jane Mays from the Mail. Ostensibly to sound her out about whether Associated might be interested in launching a rival to the Speccy. This arose out of a talk with Simon Clark on Monday about how we could take the Politico magazine to the next stage. She seemed quite keen, but not sure if anything will come of it.

Nothing did come of it, needless to say. (Life’s a pitch.) Instead, a few years later, Iain launched Total Politics with the support of Lord Ashcroft.

As for The Politico, it was fun while it lasted, which wasn’t very long. And Iain thought so too. Writing in 2007 he commented:

Earlier in the summer I was tidying some files at home and a copy of a magazine fell out of a file. It was called The Politico and I published three issues of it while I was running Politico's in 2003. I started re-reading it and began to remember what a brilliant reaction it provoked at the time. It only had three issues because I then closed the shop and the people who produced it moved on to other things.

See also ‘Life and times of The Politico’.

Saturday
Sep222018

Iain Dale’s diary

On Thursday, as I mentioned in my previous post, I was in Birmingham to finalise plans for our forthcoming events at the Conservative conference.

When the Tories were last in Birmingham, two years ago, Forest hosted a drinks party that attracted 500 guests.

How many were drawn to the event by our guest speaker, LBC presenter (and former Conservative PPC) Iain Dale, I don’t know but I do know that Iain felt rather intimidated by the experience because he tweeted as much.

Anyway, I was thinking about that this morning when I read, on Iain’s blog, 7,000 words from a personal diary he started to write in 2002.

He abandoned it after only a few months which is a pity because it’s a really entertaining read, reminiscent of Gyles Brandreth’s Breaking The Code: Westminster Diaries which is a favourite book of mine.

It also (and this in no way influences my opinion!) includes two references to me:

Monday 21 October
Had a meeting with Simon Clark this afternoon. The main thing to come out of it is an idea to put to Associated Newspapers about launching a rival to The Spectator. Could be interesting.

Friday 25 October
Had lunch yesterday with Jane Mays from the Mail. Ostensibly to sound her out about whether Associated might be interested in launching a rival to the Speccy. This arose out of a talk with Simon Clark on Monday about how we could take the Politico magazine to the next stage. She seemed quite keen, but not sure if anything will come of it.

Nothing did come of it but if I have time tomorrow I might explain the background to these entries.

Meanwhile do read the whole thing. These extracts don’t really do Iain’s embryonic diary justice. The rest is far more interesting!

See ‘Six weeks in the autumn - my very personal diary from 2002’ (Iain Dale).

Friday
Sep212018

The Wright move

I was in Birmingham yesterday making final arrangements for our forthcoming events at the Conservative party conference.

It was wet and rather miserable.

While I was there I had to do a couple of radio interviews on the subject of smoking being “eradicated” in England by 2030.

One was with Matthew Wright, former presenter of The Wright Stuff on Channel 5.

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this before but many years ago, when Jonathan Ross left his BBC One chat show following the Russell Brand debacle, I wrote to the BBC suggesting that Wright be given the job.

In hindsight it seems a bizarre and rather futile thing to do (I’ve never done anything like it before or since) but I’d been on The Wright Stuff and had watched the programme several times.

Wright seemed a genuinely decent guy who listened to and had empathy for his guests but wasn’t afraid to challenge them. He also struck me as pretty fair in the way he addressed topical issues.

He was also very entertaining with a good sense of humour.

I don't know if he was even considered as a replacement for Ross because Graham Norton was promoted from Monday to the Friday night slot (you can't argue with that) and Wright stayed where he was.

In June, after 18 years, he finally left Channel 5 and I was interested to see what he would do next.

The answer was TalkRADIO and yesterday I found myself speaking to him on my mobile phone while standing in a quiet but rather damp corner of Brindleyplace, close to the International Conference Centre.

As ever he was challenging but conversational in a way that very few presenters can master. (If I was controller of Radio 2 I’d have snapped him up as Chris Evans’ replacement but I suspect he’ll be much happier in a less restrictive environment.)

However, the reason for this post is that, having concluded the interview by asking me, “How do you sleep at night?”, one of my favourite presenters paid me a small compliment that, literally, left me speechless.

You can listen to it here.

PS. He later tweeted:

Update: TalkRADIO has since tweeted:

Update: I may have been a bit hasty with my praise (see Matthew's additional tweet below)! To be fair, he kept his views in check during the interview which wasn't aggressive. He simply played devil's advocate, which I would expect any good broadcaster to do, and I had ample time to respond. Can't ask for more than that.

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