Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: In the Dark about Smoking

Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: In the Dark about Smoking

Article excerpt

The government has yet to set out details of when and how the smoking ban will come into effect.

This time next year, a ban on smoking in enclosed public places will come into force in England, and smokers will no longer be able to light up in offices, pubs, restaurants or a host of other buildings.

This legislation may benefit the nation's health, but with the finer points yet to be finalised and the government eager for the ban to take effect by next July, there are concerns that preparing for and communicating change in such a short timeframe is a tall order.

No doubt ministers will have been closely assessing the experience in Scotland to see whether there are lessons to be learned from the introduction of its ban four months ago.

The Scottish Executive put its weight behind a major campaign ahead of the ban's implementation on 26 March. Instead of communicating only what the ban meant for consumers, the 'Clearing the Air' drive focused on making smoking an unacceptable habit. Following the campaign, compliance with the ban was estimated at 99.4%, and 100% of the public is now aware of the law. Support for the ban across all groups stands at 61%, including 80% of ex-smokers and 89% of non-smokers. Smokers' backing, meanwhile, has risen to 30%, up from 26% before the ban came into force.

According to the team behind the campaign - the Scottish Executive, ad agency Leith and PR firm Consolidated Communications - this success was achieved through diligent planning and the delivery of clear and uncompromising messages.

Tackling misconceptions

Smoking is the biggest single preventable cause of premature death in Scotland, yet research showed that many Scots regarded passive smoking as a 'nuisance' rather than a serious health risk.

The team decided to tackle this head-on. A pounds 750,000 campaign using TV and outdoor drove home the message that passive smoking is lethal. The TV execution showed an initially healthy woman confronted by the 'nuisance' of a smoky pub, then facing the further 'nuisance' of hospital appointments, chemotherapy, hair loss and, finally, death - 'a bit of a nuisance as well'.

'From the word go, we had to get the message across that passive smoking is a killer,' says Scottish Executive head of marketing Roger Williams. Third-party support was enlisted from professional bodies and charities including the British Medical Association, Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie.

The second strand of the campaign, to achieve compliance, used direct work and PR. A leaflet door-drop to every home in Scotland was backed by two direct mailings to Scotland's businesses. 'We were very clear on what the legislation covers and did countdown posters so people knew when it was coming in,' says Leith director of account management Richard Marsham.

Consolidated ensured it could rebut arguments about a negative economic impact on the licensed trade, explain why better ventilation alone was not an option and deliver information on the impact of passive smoking. 'Our remit was to help move the debate into lifestyle media,' says Will Holt, head of Consolidated's Edinburgh office. 'We engaged with the licensed trade press, talked about the opportunities the ban presents and got celebrity endorsements.'

So, what needs to happen to achieve a similarly positive outcome in England? …

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