Stoptober campaign goes back to basics as pandemic prompts smokers to quit

Health messaging is front and centre in the latest phase of the long-running smoking-cessation campaign.

Stoptober will be launched against the backdrop of the pandemic
Stoptober will be launched against the backdrop of the pandemic

A blackened bunch of dead flowers juxtaposed with a fresh bouquet is a powerful image used in a new campaign to warn of the dangers of smoking, to be launched tomorrow.

The latest iteration of Public Health England’s Stoptober campaign, now in its ninth year, has gone back to basics, reinforcing the core message that smoking is bad for your health.

It is in stark contrast to last year’s campaign, which focused on the relationship between smokers and cigarettes and encouraged people to ‘split up’ with smoking. The 2019 campaign featured films of people talking to giant cigarettes about why they needed to ‘end’ the relationship.


A more direct approach has been taken for this year's campaign, with a pair of lungs represented by two bouquets of flowers - one which is dead and shrivelled and the other full of life.

And a short campaign film depicts a brown, tar-sodden floral bouquet turning back into fresh flowers in a metaphor for the benefits of giving up smoking.

Ben Golik, chief creative officer at M&C Saatchi, said: “Simplicity always wins out. This campaign uses striking visuals to show both the damage of smoking, and the benefits of quitting – the two most powerful levers we can pull. Harm and hope blend into a single visual story focused on the lungs. And in a year we have never been more aware of the dangers to our lungs, it’s a powerful and pertinent metaphor.”

COVID-19 context

The new campaign is being run under the umbrella branding of Better Health, a general behaviour-change campaign launched by PHE in July to promote stronger health among the general population.

It calls on smokers to think about the damage smoking does to their lungs and give up so they can “breathe."

A core message of the campaign is that smokers who quit for 28 days are five times more likely to quit for good.

A Freuds spokesperson told PRWeek: “The campaign hasn’t specifically referenced COVID-19, but has made reference to the fact that smoking damages the lungs and airways and harms the immune system, leaving us more vulnerable to infections.”

They added: “It notes that smokers generally have an increased risk of contracting respiratory infections and experiencing more severe symptoms and that stopping smoking brings immediate benefits to health, including for people with an existing smoking-related disease.”


PHE hopes the campaign will capitalise on a surge in smokers who are turning their blacks on the habit. More than a million people in the UK have stopped smoking since the coronavirus pandemic hit, according to Action on Smoking and Health.

More than two million smokers have tried to give up since Stoptober launched nearly a decade ago, according to PHE.

And while smoking prevalence among adults in England is at a record low of 13.9 per cent, some 6.1m people continue to smoke.


A multimedia campaign will be supported through PR, social, radio, press, out-of-home and video on demand activity.

Freuds, M&C Saatchi, Wavemaker, OmniGOV, 23Red and Parkhouse have worked together on the new campaign.

It is being backed by partnerships with health and anti-smoking charities as well as Amazon, Superdrug and Boots, among others.

Some £1m is being spent on this year’s campaign, which is targeting smokers aged 35-60, as well as those in the 18-34 age group, as there has been a rise in smoking among this demographic during the pandemic.

The comms around the campaign will draw on latest statistics on smoking prevalence along with human-interest case studies – such as TV presenter Kate Thornton and DJ Scott Mills, who are both quitting smoking to coincide with the campaign – and offering up medical experts.

Different demographic

Older smokers are being targeted with a different image where the lungs are represented by mechanical cogs, one set of which is tarnished and rusted while the other is shiny and clean.

Alternative campaign image
Alternative campaign image

In its campaign pack, PHE states: “The ‘cogs’ lung image has been developed as an alternative creative you can use to promote Stoptober. We know from testing that this creative is particularly effective in engaging an older audience.”

The campaign’s effectiveness will be measured by survey data tracking the percentage of smokers who have tried to give up as a result of Stoptober, as well as the take-up of PHE’s free quit smoking tools.

Alexia Clifford, deputy head of marketing, Public Health England, said: “There’s never been a better time to stop smoking with the wide range of support available to people. Lung health is more important than ever, and I hope that this year’s campaign will continue to encourage many more smokers to quit.”

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