Stoptober Campaign to Offer Free Online 'Personal Quit Plan'

Theresa Bebbington

September 21, 2018

Since 2012, Public Health England (PHE) has been running the mass media Stoptober campaign to encourage tobacco smokers to quit smoking for 28 days in October. It is based on research that shows people who can make it 28 days smoke-free are five times more likely to quit. In the campaign's first year, there was a 50% increase in the number of people quitting during October compared with other months in the same year. An estimated 350,000 additional quit attempts have been attributed to the Stoptober 2012 campaign, and up until the end of the 2016 campaign, Stoptober has been given credit for more than one and a half million quit attempts.

Stoptober is back from 1st October and will continue for the month, and new for 2018, the campaign will be encouraging smokers to 'find their best way to quit' by offering a free online 'Personal Quit Plan'.

More Than Half of Smokers Want to Quit 

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 14.9% of the population living in England are current smokers, which is around 6.1 million people. Of these, about 6 in 10 would like to quit smoking. Trying to quit by going 'cold turkey' and only using willpower is a popular method, however, it is also the least effective way to quit smoking. 

PHE recommends using expert help from local stop smoking services along with stop smoking aids such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and e-cigarettes. The organisation has reported that 51% of smokers who followed this combination of support when trying to quit in 2017–18 were successful. The main reason given by 62% of ex-smokers and 40% of current smokers for using e-cigarettes is to abstain or quit smoking. Although they are not available on the NHS, Stoptober backed the use of e-cigarettes for the first time in 2017.

Online Plan to Customise Support

This year, Stoptober will be promoting a free online 'Personal Quit Plan'. A range of options are available to help smokers find the stop smoking support that works for them including face-to-face support, NRTs such as patches, gum, and inhalers, and e-cigarettes. The online plan will ask a number of questions, and based on the level of tobacco dependency and any previous support for quitting smoking, suggest a combination of support. The online plan will also provide an app and daily emails as well as offer encouragement through the Stoptober online community on Facebook.

In a response to the launch of Stoptober, Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), has said there are "many different ways of quitting…but to succeed smokers need motivation."

The charity has also welcomed the PHE’s endorsement of e-cigarettes as an effective aid for stopping smoking and encourages current smokers to use them to stop smoking. PHE has reported that of an estimated 3.2 million adults who currently 'vape' using e-cigarettes, more than half of them are ex-tobacco smokers. Current vapers have said the main reason for using e-cigarettes is to help them stop smoking.

Lack of Funding

Although Stoptober has proven successful, campaign funds for the event have been declining. According to ASH, investment in mass media peaked in 2008/09 at £23.38 million. The charity told Medscape News UK: "Mass media campaigns like Stoptober are effective in motivating people to make a quit attempt. However, these campaigns have been underfunded for many years missing the potential to motivate thousands more quit attempts."

For the first time in 2016, the use of more expensive traditional media such as television and radio were replaced with a digital and social media campaign, a cheaper alternative. Physical packs have also been discontinued.

In addition, local authorities are also struggling to fund stop smoking services. A survey by Cancer Research UK and ASH highlighted budget cuts to these services. In 2017, 50% of local authorities made budget cuts to stop smoking services, and this is on top of previous cuts made by 59% of local authorities in 2016 and 39% in 2015. The main reasons given in the survey for these cuts were the reduction in the public health grant and pressure on local government budgets.

Kruti Shrotri, from Cancer Research UK, commented to Medscape News UK: "Quitting smoking is tough. We know Stop Smoking Services give smokers the best chance of giving up for good. But unfortunately these vital services are being axed because of Government cuts to funding. We want the Government to increase funding for public health so that all smokers across the country can access the best stop-smoking support."

Although most of the local authorities in England continue to commission a specialist stop smoking service, it is not always universally available. Some of the stop smoking services utilise targeting which restricts their service to specific groups with a high prevalence of smokers such as people with mental health conditions or who are on a low income. Other local authorities have shifted toward integrated lifestyle services, and in some cases services are provided only in primary care. However, these latter two options tend not to attract certain people in the high-prevalence groups.


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