Claire Beale on Advertising: The fag end of anti-smoking campaigns

The advertising industry always said that the Government's decision to reduce spending on advertising would be a false economy.

Now there's early evidence it was right. According to figures from the Department for Health, the number of people who have quit smoking has fallen by a third since the government culled its anti-smoking advertising.

A time of savage cuts might not be conducive to abstaining from life's remaining pleasures but there's clear evidence of the damage done by pulling anti-smoking ads. Take last year's figures as a benchmark. In the first quarter of 2010 the Government spent £860,000 on advertising; 125,000 people kicked the habit. But when the ad budget dropped to £26,000 in the second quarter, only 86,000 smokers quit. New Year is by far the most popular time to try to quit, but the trend is clear. By the autumn, when anti-smoking ads had stopped altogether, the numbers giving up their nicotine fix were 38 per cent down on the first quarter of the year.

Empirical evidence of advertising's effectiveness is not always easy to come by but the smoking stats are plain enough. The new figures are unlikely to persuade the Cabinet Office to amend its ad-slashing ways but they should persuade the government that advertising can be a force for good.

So it's left to charities like Quit to help smokers beat the habit. It has just launched a campaign, by Iris, in which inserts are slipped into paperbacks in libraries and second-hand bookshops.

The insert is placed before the final chapter in each book and chillingly reads: "The End. If you smoke, statistically your story will end 15 per cent before it should."

Claire Beale is editor of Campaign

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