Cancer Research UK in smoke ban victory - Public Affairs

Campaign: Smoke-free Workplaces Client: Cancer Research UK PR team: In-house Timescale: January 2005-February 2006 Budget: Under £26,000

Until Parliament voted for a total ban on smoking in public places, the Government's preferred option was to exempt pubs in England that did not serve prepared food. The anti-smoking lobby complained this would have left thousands of bar staff exposed to the damaging effects of second-hand smoke.

Cancer Research UK - as part of the Smokefree Action Coalition - set out to convince the Government to bring England in line with the rest of the UK and make all workplaces and enclosed public spaces smoke-free.


To secure a comprehensive smoke-free law for England. To persuade politicians and the public that only a comprehensive smoking ban would give all workers protection from second-hand smoke.


Cancer Research UK targeted MPs and the public - it needed to communicate directly to MPs and convince the public to lobby them as well. It thus set out to ensure that its campaign included elements that related to both groups.

It came up with a mixture of serious surveys and stunts to keep the smoking ban in the public consciousness. The

CancerCampaigns website was set up, promoted by viral emails targeted at 40,000 people, encouraging them to contact their local MP directly through the portal.

The in-house PR team joined forces with Action on Smoking and Health to commission and publicise four major polls, while Roy Castle's widow, Fiona Castle, was enlisted to deliver a petition to Downing Street. All initiatives were press released to the media.

To highlight the choice that would have faced pubs in the future - 'food or fags?' - the team partnered with Asthma UK to stage a stunt opposite the Houses of Parliament - people dressed as giant cigarettes engaged in a tug-of-war with a 'sandwich', a 'pizza' and a 'hotdog'. The photo opportunity coincided with the second reading of the Government's Health Bill on 30 November 2005, which incorporated the proposed smoke-free law.

In another stunt, MPs were sent a fake cigarette packet bearing a health warning: 'Secondhand smoke kills barworkers.' Packs were filled with cigarette cards containing factual information on health in the workplace. They were also sent to newsdesks at national newspapers and TV and radio stations.


Cancer Research UK was quoted more than 1,000 times in newspaper articles and broadcast stories in relation to the ban. Coverage of the tug-of-war was included on GMTV and in The Publican, BMA News (the British Medical Association publication for GPs) and Caterer and Hotelkeeper.

The fake cigarette packets were reported on by the Financial Times, London Metro, Evening Standard, Sky News and BBC Online, as well as the Birmingham Post, Western Mail, Western Daily Press and Metro Yorkshire.


MPs voted for a complete ban on smoking in the workplace and enclosed public places by a majority of 200 in February. Most MPs (595 out of 646) were contacted through the CancerCampaigns initiative, with each receiving an average of 15 emails.

James Garner, managing editor of Caterer and Hotelkeeper, says: 'We were running a similar campaign at the same time, so it was useful to have a lobbying body with leverage to support what we were doing. Cancer Research UK's stunts were good and gave us decent picture captions.'


Ian Wilmore, public affairs manager, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)

Cancer Research UK played a key role in the Smokefree Action Coalition, the alliance of groups and individuals brought together to achieve legislation ending smoking in all workplaces and enclosed public spaces.

This included using its resources to run newspaper advertising and opinion polls, encouraging supporters to contact their MPs, and of course PR stunts.

This campaign marked a real development in the approach of Cancer Research UK. It recognised that policy changes to reduce the number of smokers, and the general public's exposure to secondhand smoke, will be at least as significant in tackling cancer as any research into treatment and cure.

This meant visible campaigning work was needed to ensure change.

Cancer Research UK was successful in persuading its donors and supporters that such campaigning was a good use of their time and money. This is a tribute to the foresight of Cancer Research UK CEO Professor Alex Markham and many senior colleagues.

Cancer Research UK was willing to be guided in this by small NGOs such as ASH, as well as major health organisations, trade unions, councillors and council officers, and public health experts. They collaboratively achieved the most important advance in public health for 30 years.

Creativity: 4

Delivery: 4


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