Today health organisations will be promoting the latest annual No Smoking Day, 38 years after the first No Smoking Day in 1984.
This year, the theme of the event is “Quit Your Way”, designed to focus on helping people quit smoking in a way that works best for them. Ironically, the current approach of encouraging people to quit is not too dissimilar from George Orwell’s 1984.
Current messaging towards smokers is just as forthright, with “Smoking Kills – Quit Now” emblazoned over every cigarette packet, alongside gory images of diseased anatomy. This is accompanied by taxes, coercive and divisive restrictions, and stigmatising media campaigns.
While brutality worked in 1984, with the main character finally buckling and loving Big Brother.
In the real world, tired traditional tobacco control approaches have not worked as well as claimed and will likely continue not to work.
Smokers know that smoking kills, how could they not? It is taught on the national curriculum and the message is repeated relentlessly by health advocates, yet millions of people continue smoking combustible cigarettes with little awareness of less harmful alternatives, or they don’t find a particular alternative nicotine product satisfying enough to switch.
If, on this No Smoking Day, we are focussing on ways that work best for people to quit smoking, we actually need to inform smokers about the wide range of less harmful products that are currently available to them.
Rather than just persevere with the stale, provocative health messaging that is currently on cigarette packets, there are more innovative ways of encouraging smokers to try something less harmful.
We could, for example, place an insert in the packet, advertising safer alternatives, which will not be seen by anyone except those who already smoke.
This would inform and directly market to smokers the array of safer alternative non-combustible products which are available.
Arguments against reduced risk products usually centre around the likelihood of youth or non-smokers using products designed for smokers.
Advertising through cigarettes would reach smokers directly and could end up being the way that does indeed help hard-to-reach smokers to “Quit Their Way”.
Likewise, another method which would be far more effective than continuing to invest in expensive public health awareness campaigns, is the use of targeted online communications.
These communications could also be used to counter the misinformation that exists regarding less harmful alternatives.
For example, Public Health England’s annual evidence review last year found that 38 percent of current smokers wrongly believe that vaping was as harmful as smoking. This is particularly shocking when considering that the same body has consistently found vaping to be at least 95 percent less harmful than smoking traditional cigarettes.
It is of particular concern that the data also found that those misperceptions surrounding vapes were most pronounced among the most deprived in our society, the same communities which consistently report the highest smoking rates.
The Government has made much of its levelling up agenda in recent months. However, health disparity remains a serious issue across the country, with high smoking rates in those very socio-economic groups the Government are trying to “level up” feeding directly into that narrative.
More sensible educational communications to this group of smokers would be completely in line with tackling health inequalities, as outlined by the Government in their Levelling Up White Paper and should therefore be seriously considered by policymakers.
Ultimately, this is not 1984, this is not Air Strip One, nor is this Oceania. It is imperative to move away from the brutalist approach to a more pragmatic one. Traditional, one-size-fits-all anti-smoking tools are delivering ever-diminishing returns.
We should look to providing those remaining smokers with reliable and trusted information about the variety of reduced risk products available to them, and of course, ensure access to them.
The market now offers a wide range of innovative less harmful alternatives, offering smokers a panoply of options to find out what works best for them to quit smoking. For many smokers, just knowing of their existence and being given clear advice as to their lower risk could be the key to success.
• Martin Cullip is International Fellow at The Taxpayers Protection Alliance’s Consumer Centre.
Martin Cullip – Express – 2022-03-09.