Posted: 16 Oct. 2014 7 min. read

STOPTOBER – firing up the nation’s stop smoking challenge

On the 8 September Public Health England launched its latest Stoptober campaign aimed at encouraging people across the country to stop smoking from the 1 October for 28 days (and beyond). Evidence shows that if a smoker can stop for 28 days they are five times more likely to stay smoke-free. The campaign is supported by local NHS Stop Smoking Services, Local Authorities, pharmacies, retailers and large employers. This support is backed by a national TV, radio, press and online campaign running for 6 weeks. So most people are likely to have heard about it – but what’s the evidence base, how does it work and why is it necessary?

The aim of Stoptober is not just to encourage people to stop smoking but, importantly, to stay smoke-free. Signing up to the campaign (on provides people with daily information and support. People can also sign up to receive a free pack containing further tips on how to stop smoking and distraction techniques to help stay smoke free, there is also an app to track progress and text support over the 28 days of the campaign. Stoptober has increased in popularity due to growing evidence of its effectiveness. So far, in 2014, some 258,299 people have joined the campaign. Compared to 250,000 people who completed the 4-week smoke-free challenge in 2013 and the 160,000 in 2012.

In launching the 2014 campaign, PHE drew attention to new research which shows that someone who quits smoking for Stoptober, and doesn’t smoke again, could gain an extra seven days of life, every 28 days, for the rest of their life. Along with health benefits, stopping can save the average smoker over £150 a month and almost £2,000 a year. During last year’s Stoptober campaign, some £25 million was saved by people not buying cigarettes.

In addition to this campaign, smokers can also access new technologies to assist them in stopping smoking. The NHS App library contains four recommended and medically reviewed apps that have been designed to help people stop smoking. The most recent data about the reduction in the number of smokers in England are encouraging, indicating that only 18.7 per cent of the English population now smoke.i This is the lowest figure since 1974. As a consequence, the annual expenditure on tobacco has reduced from almost £20 billion in 2005 to £15 billion in 2013.ii

Nonetheless those who smoke are still exposed to a number of serious health risks, including a significantly increased risk of dying prematurely. There is a huge body of literature and academic research that demonstrates that smoking increases the risk of heart attack, lung and other cancers (e.g. mouth, lip, throat), bronchitis and emphysema. It also reduces the sense of smell and taste. Second hand smoke can reduce lung function in non-smokers as well as having an increased risk of cancer. Currently:

  • 32 per cent of men in the 25-34 age group smoke
  • 29 per cent of women aged 20-24 smoke
  • two-thirds of smokers start before they turn 18 
  • 81 per cent of smokers smoke 20 or more cigarettes a day 
  • 50.6 per cent of smokers have tried electronic cigarettes, but mostly ex-smokers use them on a regular basis (700,000 people).iii

Smoking is estimated to cost the NHS in England approximately £2 billion a year in treating ill-health and diseases caused by smoking. This includes the costs of hospital admissions, GP consultations and prescriptions. Consequently, expenditure on tobacco control is perceived as providing good value for money with reductions in smoking resulting in a net annual benefit of £1.7 billion.iv

Additionally it is evident that employers have reasons to support stop smoking campaigns. Data shows smoking has a negative impact on the economy in England, as every year:

  • businesses lose over 11 million days productivity due to smoking-related sick days, costing around £1 billion
  • smoking breaks cost businesses £5 billion 
  • smoking-related deaths result in 158,290 years of lost productivity, costing the economy £3 billion 
  • smoking costs society approximately £13.1 billion.v

While Stoptober is a relatively new initiative, it is the latest in a long list of Government initiatives to reduce the number of smokers. Indeed since October 2003, packages of cigarettes sold in the UK have carried warning messages; in October 2008 cigarette packages carried negative pictorial images, in addition to messages. Since July 2007 smoking has been banned in all enclosed and substantially enclosed public places. Moreover, from April 2012, tobacco products cannot be displayed in large shops and supermarkets, but must be hidden behind shutters and over the last ten years the price of tobacco has increased by 80.2 per cent making it 22.1 per cent less

After Australia introduced plain packaging in 2013, the UK Government commissioned independent researchers as part of a wider consultation exercise determine whether to do the same in the UK. The interim results, published in April 2014, showed that people (both adults and children) perceive plain packets as less attractive, poorer quality, poorer tasting and cheaper than branded ones.vii The consultation ended in August 2014. Given the time needed for the legislative process it’s uncertain whether anything will happen before the general election.

Smoking is a life style choice but stopping smoking may well be one of the best choices you can make for yourself, your wallet and your family.

Sign up for the latest updates

Key contact

Karen Taylor

Karen Taylor


Karen is the Research Director of the Centre for Health Solutions. She supports the Healthcare and Life Sciences practice by driving independent and objective business research and analysis into key industry challenges and associated solutions; generating evidence based insights and points of view on issues from pharmaceuticals and technology innovation to healthcare management and reform. Karen also produces a weekly blog on topical issues facing the healthcare and life science industries.