Tobacco Info

From Tobacco Info No. 9 - April 2012
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National Non-Smoking Week highlights how hard quitting can be

By Geoffrey Lansdell

Forget the tired old message that smoking is a bad “habit” that needs to be kicked. The fact is, smokers have a very personal relationship with their cigarettes, and it was this element of relationship that the Canadian Council for Tobacco Control (CCTC) and the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) highlighted during the 2012 edition of National Non-Smoking Week (NNSW).

Sponsored since 1977 by the CCTC, this year’s campaign slogan reminded Canadians that “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”. It was a clever message that gained a lot of play with Canadian media outlets and regional tobacco-control groups throughout the country.

“We found that the theme really resonated with people,” said Jocelyne Koepke, CCTC Operations Manager, following NNSW, which ran from January 15 to 21.

“A number of organizations called us and asked if they could include their logos or provincial quitline phone numbers on the poster. The tobacco control group Act: Newfoundland called and said, ‘Do you mind if we take out the reference to NNSW because we want to use the poster all year?’ And Yukon and the Northwest Territories used it as a backdrop to an ad they ran in one of the local papers. So there were a number of organizations, governments, public health units that made a couple minor tweaks to the poster so that it made sense to their communities, which was very exciting for us.”

The notion that “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” resonates because it is a classic break-up song by American crooner Neil Sedaka, and any smoker thinking of quitting can relate to the difficulty involved in getting out of a dysfunctional or painful relationship. It was a fresh concept, reminding smokers, former smokers, and non-smokers that change is a difficult process.
The idea for the campaign had its roots in a break-up letter actor Colin Farrell wrote to cigarettes on his 34th birthday. “The relationship is first and foremost an addiction,” Koepke said. “But our campaign was really based on that break-up letter Colin Farrell wrote. That was our inspiration.”
Another significant cessation campaign launched during NNSW came from the CCS with a very similar message and new cessation tools. The CCS campaign slogan is “Break It Off,” for which a free app and a new website were built. The website, www.breakitoff.ca, includes a helpline, a quit coach, a list of “13 Ways to Dump Smoking”, along with additional resources for breaking up with cigarettes. The cessation program is aimed at young smokers, who are likely to identify the slogan with the 2011 hit “Break It Off” by Rihanna and Sean Paul. 
Asked whether the close messaging of the CCTC and CCS was coordinated,
Koepke said that “It was pure coincidence. But we thought, ‘you know, this is really interesting because we’ve got two organizations that independently have arrived at the same point, at the same time. So that’s just going to increase the volume.’”
In addition to these two campaigns, the week was highlighted by a statement from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who launched NNSW by urging Canadians “To quit the habit both for themselves and for their loved ones.”
“Every year smoking adversely impacts the health of millions of Canadians,” Harper said on the first day of NNSW, “Including those affected by second-hand smoke, heightening their risk of cancer, heart disease, emphysema and a number of other conditions. It also costs our healthcare system — and therefore taxpayers — a substantial amount of money.”
Health Canada estimates that tobacco kills over 37,000 Canadians every year, while the cost to Canadian taxpayers is $5.3 billion, which takes only direct healthcare costs into account. Once the indirect costs in productivity losses are factored in, the figure balloons to nearly $17 billion. Unfortunately, these figures date from a 2006 report published by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA), and are based on data from 2002. The in-depth study was the second of its kind in Canada after the CCSA published its first report in 1996 in partnership with a number of federal and provincial organizations. According to the CCSA, there is no new study underway.