How Berklee Music and Health Institute is helping Nicorette with a smoking-cessation campaign

SmokeLess Break Beats uses advances in music therapy to help smokers kick the habit.

Screenshot from the Smokeless Break Beats campaign

BOSTON: What would happen if when a smoker felt the urge to grab his pack of cigarettes, he instead reached for his iPhone, opened Spotify and listened to therapeutic music to help him quit?

That’s the idea behind the initiative SmokeLess Break Beats from the Berklee Music and Health Institute and Nicorette, a nicotine-replacement product. 

The two groups launched the program last month amid renewed concerns about tobacco use in the U.S. In 2020, cigarette sales increased for the first time in two decades, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s annual Cigarette Report.

In July, the Food and Drug Administration ordered Juul to stop selling e-cigarettes, which are popular among teenagers. A federal appeals court temporarily blocked the ban.

Joy Allen, founding and acting director of the Berklee Music and Health Institute, said the music therapy program can provide relief for people experiencing increased stress in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other reasons and help them quit smoking.

“If we look at the reasons why people smoke and the reasons why people are not successful during smoking-cessation journeys, we know that withdrawal symptoms can cause agitation; they can cause mood swings, they can cause increased anxiety,” said Allen. “We know music can help regulate those same areas.”

Music therapy is not simply searching for the latest Beyoncé album and hitting play. The earliest reference to music therapy was in the late 18th century, according to the American Music Therapy Association. Throughout the 20th century in the U.S., music therapy practitioners founded organizations and developed journals, books and educational courses. Michigan State University established the first music therapy academic program in 1944. 

“What music therapists do is they use music and the relationship that develops within and through the music to impact specific health outcomes,” said Allen, who founded the institute in 2018. 

For SmokeLess Break Beats, Berklee students composed “unique tracks, each crafted specifically to help curb nicotine cravings,” according to a Nicorette website about the initiative. “Through the science of music, we're helping to advance our understanding of its power in smoking cessation to enable healthier breaks.”

To develop the music, in May, the institute staged a challenge in which it asked students to develop 10- to 15-minute original music breaks designed to target physiological and emotional responses. Select participants received a $500 stipend, and the winning composers won a $2,000 stipend.

The program offers “breaklists” for people who want to slow down, release pent-up energy, get a boost or refocus.

“We feel that it is important for us to provide as many tools as possible to help smokers along their quit-smoking journey,” said Pam Remash, marketing director of U.S. Smokers' Health at Haleon, the parent company of Nicorette. “This is another tool to add into that toolkit, and what better one than adding the power of music.”

The campaign is being supported by an integrated Interpublic Group team that includes staff from Weber Shandwick, creative network FCB and digital firm Resolute; paid media was supported by Publicis Leon.

Berklee will promote the initiative through social media, advertising and print content. “A big part is having people tell their stories,” Allen said.

Nicorette is planning to use social media and paid media to target smokers and is hoping to generate earned media. 

“It's headline news; as you look at the journey that smokers are going through, a lot of policy changes are out there, so we have been blessed to have quite a bit of interest,” Remash said.

This story was updated on August 10 with additional information. 

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