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8 Top Tips for your No Smoking 2024 Behaviour Change Campaigns

#behaviouralscience #behaviourchange #changecommunications #publichealth #smokefree Feb 11, 2024

This year the date for No Smoking Day is Wednesday March 13th.

Last week we ran the Behaviour Change Market masterclass on effective smokefree messaging with Professor Robert West, Emeritus Professor of Health Psychology, UCL, & co-author COM-B & Behaviour Change Wheel and Samantha Neville, campaign lead at Making Smoking History, NHS Greater Manchester, which covers 2.8 million people across 10 local authorities. The cost of smoking to society in Greater Manchester is £1.1billion.

There was so much learning in this masterclass and as No Smoking Day is just around the corner I’ve gathered together some of the top tips from Robert and Samantha for you.

Plus grab your copy of the Busy Communicator’s Guide to Effective Smokefree Messaging at the bottom. ⬇️


One: Remember it’s an addiction – lean into this for effective messaging.

People that smoke have an addiction to nicotine and effective messaging reflects that because it answers the questions smokers have, addresses their barriers and debunks beliefs. Evidence has shown comms & marketing is a critical intervention to any tobacco control strategy.

But sometimes smokefree messaging is confused with lifestyle messaging such as physical activity.

But if this happens you’ll lose your audience and make work harder for yourself because the answers to your campaign questions are in the insights around people’s behaviours and their behaviours are driven by the addiction.

For example did you know…

  • Daily smokers, (approximately 75% of people that smoke), suffer with ‘nicotine hunger’ when levels of nicotine are depleted. This will trigger a desire to smoke and withdrawal symptoms include poor concentration and increased stress. This can then create the belief that when people do smoke it aids their concentration or reducing stress. Because it has. But only because the nicotine caused the problem in the first place.
  • The remaining 25% of people that smoke do not smoke daily, so they may well consider their addiction to be less – or that they are in control. However the way nicotine works on the brain is that it is building associations of situations and environments where smoking has occurred and forging associations which will send impulses to smoke to the brain. In other words, even though your audience may think they are only have one every now and then, nicotine is working hard to increase it.


Two: Target your audiences. For example High level and low level dependency.

Sam and her team start every campaign with market research. For their campaign ‘What Will You Miss’ they found very distinct differences in mindset in high dependency and low dependency smokers.

The low dependency:

• seemed to be happier with their lot
• smoking in a patchy way. boredom, stress release
• used vapes & cigarettes interchangeably
• belief they could quit…but doesn’t lead to action

The higher dependency

• were cynical and defensive,
• bravado but worried,
• talked openly about addiction and
• little use of vaping.

Their strategy included:

  • Lower dependency – nudge from consideration to commitment although not closed off to harm messages hope is works well
  • High dependency - harm messaging with direct links to support via ‘What Will You Miss’
    This enabled them to reach the most vulnerable, entrenched smokers. Remember most smokers are also ‘quitters’. In the sense that they have tried and may have succeeded to quit many times. They know it’s not easy. This makes it a tough sell.


Three: Target your audience: Smokers aged 18-24 years may not know the harm….

Sam shared a You Gov survey that barely half of 18-24 year olds who smoke knew that doing so caused cancer and even fewer were aware it caused strokes, heart disease and lung problems. From a COM-B perspective this falls under capability. The knowledge is missing.


Four: Anti-smoking does not mean anti-smoker don’t shame your audience

Let’s not pretend people don’t judge because they do. Fear of stigma is a huge barrier for people to access services. Ask your service lead how it is addressed in the service and amplify it.


Five: Don’t use images of people smoking

Pictures of people trigger an urge to smoke. Don’t use them. Go back to your call to action. If you are stuck on images think about your message. Are you stuck at a generic message about the harms of smoking. If so jump to eight.


Six: Bring your stop smoking services alive

Professor West stated that one of the biggest barriers we have is smokers will still try to quit on their own and not use the services. He likened it to trying to cure yourself of cancer. Bring your services alive. Explain what they are and who delivers it. How they can help for example the physiological, psychological, social barriers they work with you to overcome. As well as the medications on offer.


Seven: Social norms to build self belief

One of the reasons Stoptober worked because it gave permission for everyone to come together and quit together. To feel positive and proud with people like them.
Use your case studies to show how ‘people like me’ have overcome the same barriers.
Build self belief.
“They are people like me.”
“I can do this.”
“I did it.”


Eight: Make it urgent

Professor West said “Every day after age 35 a smoker carries on average lose 6-8 hours of their life. Living 16 hours days. But the moment you stop it reverts back to 24 hours.’
‘The longer you leave it the more of your life you lose.’
Helping people break the nicotine addiction is always urgent but never too late.


The 5 steps to effective smokefree behaviour change messaging

Grab your free Busy Communicator’s Guide  It outlines the 5 steps to behaviour change and with an appendix on Youth Vaping. Huge thanks to Everyone Health for sponsoring the Guide. 




You're invited. Let's plan together

Join us on 14th March 2024 Behaviour Change Marketing Bootcamp Smokefree Special.
Delve deeper into priority audiences including pregnant women and mental heath and routine and manual workers through a behavioural science lens. Plan your campaign.
Limited spots. Early bird ends on 21st February. 🐦