Media: The ad that set me free

It's almost impossible to give up smoking - especially if you don't believe the scare stories. But a simple slogan worked for me
  • @IndyVoices
I'd like to make one thing clear before I start. I like smoking. I like smokers. I hate the anti-smoke police. I'm furious at the prospect of a ban on cigarette advertising. I dread the paranoid discussion about smoking that will arise on Thursday when the Health and Safety Executive publishes a proposal for an approved code of practice to encourage businesses to ban all smoking at work.

I don't believe passive smoking does anyone any harm. I'm not even convinced that shows smoking is harmful. If it is, how come Japan, the second-heaviest cigarette-smoking nation, boasts such a low rate of lung cancer and the longest life expectancy in the world? I can even argue that smoking does you good. I suffer from ulcerative colitis and nicotine has been shown to reduce it. It's one of the chronic, life-threatening diseases that's rarely suffered by smokers. As you can see, I'm smoking mad.

But I've given up smoking for seven months now, with barely a craving - simply on the basis of reading an advertisement.

No, it wasn't one of those ads on the lines of "Do you really want to smell like an ashtray? Die young? Put your family at risk? Become impotent? Or do you want to save thousands of pounds a year, and feel wonderful physically?"

I love the smell of ashtrays, have no problems about dying at 55 and think it's all down to genes anyway. I don't worry about impotence because I'm a woman - and, again, find the evidence extremely suspect. I don't believe I put my family at risk, I don't need the money, and when I last gave up smoking I didn't feel better. Indeed, I felt worse for years, until I started again two years ago.

Smokers spent more than pounds 100,000 a day last year trying to give up. Apparently they are constantly thinking about giving up, then going back to not thinking about it, in an almost endless loop. Finally some will break out of the cycle and take action. Smokers will, on average, try quitting five times. If they don't succeed, they then turn to help from another source, such as gum, patches or inhalers. And which brand of nicotine patch or gum you use usually depends on the advertising.

This is what interests me. I've never been taken by any advertisement that makes me feel bad (that ad on the back of buses, "Don't be a clot and block up London's arteries", made me so angry that I drove in the bus lanes for weeks).

Even Nicotinell, a nicotine patch, has an ad that runs, "It needn't be hell with Nicotinell." Why mention the word "hell" or, worse, "needn't", implying that it might? Why not change the brand name and say: "It's easy- peasy with Nicotinesy?" However, the advertising has undergone a shift, and the accent is now on "free". "Helps you set yourself free from smoking". "Feel free". No one likes to feel powerless, but the slogan does contain an implication that, at present, you are a disempowered addict.

"Smokers don't want to be told of the problems with smoking or the pain/ process of quitting," says Lanny Lucas-Stone, of Nicotinell. "They want a vision of the future where life without cigarettes is as good as or better than as the life they currently enjoy with cigarettes."

But when you're relaxing with a glass of wine and a fag and feeling just great, why look to the future?

Nicorette's advertising campaign makes a different appeal. The slogan is "Thinking of stopping smoking? You can do it. Nicorette can help." It makes gum, microtabs to be dissolved under the tongue, nasal sprays, patches and inhalers. In its slogan, it attractively makes no promises of a better life;it simply implies that the smoker has the power to stop. All Nicorette will do is help. It makes people who want to give up feel good about themselves.

But now we come to NiQuitin CQ, the nicotine patch that generates nearly half the value of all nicotine patches, and whose advertising was voted by Pharmacy magazine as the best over-the-counter ad. It combines patches with an individual smoker's plan, and has a helpline.

This is the advertisement that made me, an avid-pro-smoker, give up - and, interestingly, without parting with a single penny for a patch.

Now, committed as I am to smoking, I don't like being endlessly criticised by health freaks who have not looked properly at the statistics, and who always exaggeratedly coughed and waved their hands when I lit up. And I didn't like, in winter, being forced to go outside to smoke by bad-mannered hostesses. And the realisation that half my friends leave their brains at home when it came to the subject of smoking was depressing. It was like discovering that they were anti-black, or anti-gay.

Six months ago, NiQuitin CQ produced a newspaper advertisement. It featured two photographs. One was a picture of a cigarette being lit, with the words, "I smoke because I like it"; and the next picture was of a hand stubbing out a cigarette, with the words "I also want to stop".

My mind boggled mid-fag. An anti-smoking ad that dared to say "I smoke because I like it"? I was blown away by the honesty of it. So simple, so honest, so guilt-free. I liked it because it was written in the present tense and appealed to me right at that moment. Even that word "also" touched me. If it had been the word "but", I wouldn't have been so charmed. But the word "also" gave me the idea that you could hold two opposing ideas in your head at once. At the end of a great wodge of fascinating information about giving up smoking (not a squeak about health or money or future) was a PS: "If you are seriously thinking about giving up, cut this page out, and keep it."

I did just that, and whenever I wanted a cigarette I read it all over again. And I didn't smoke. About a week later I was just starting to get cravings, when another two-picture ad appeared. "I did eight days without smoking" was the writing above the picture of the hand stubbing out the cigarette. And the next picture was of someone lighting up. "Then there I was down the pub, at it again." I guessed that eight days is the moment when most people go back to smoking after quitting, and that drinking makes your will-power weaker. So I was on my guard. And from that day on I gave up, and haven't had a cigarette since.

This ad was, for me, more than advertisement. It was almost like a religious conversion. I still keep the pictures and look at them.

But my ulcerative colitis has returned. I'm thoroughly cross about it all. I miss the amusing conversations I had with other smokers on balconies at parties. All I can do is spend the money I've saved on expensive ashtrays for the people I still try to persuade to smoke in my house. Preferably during supper.