[Post B] Stop Before You Start

(Image Source: Stop Before You Start)

New Zealand’s Stop Before You Start campaign is a project with roots in decades of government anti-smoking messaging, and an important step in moving toward a smoke free New Zealand in 2025.

Decreasing the smoking rate has been a challenge for countries around the globe since tobacco was scientifically proven to have links with cancers, heart disease and other health risks in 1954 (American Cancer Society 2014). In order to understand why the Stop Before You Start campaign is so notable for New Zealand, first we must skim through history of anti-smoking action. Cigarette advertising was banned in New Zealand in 1990 (Gendall et al 2016). Shortly after that, the first anti-smoking commercial was released. Over the past three decades, these campaigns have progressed from targeting the larger smoker audience to narrower demographics as the smoking rate decreased (Gendall et al 2016).

The economic principle of abatement justifies the shift. It supposes that the longer an intervention goes on, the more expensive it will be to stop another person stop smoking. Early interventions might have lowered smoking use in some categories, but those who are glued to the cigarettes are going to need a lot more targeted attention than television commercials.

Reaching a point of saturation in adults provided a problem and opportunity for the Health Protection Authority; while youth smoking was decreasing, there was still a high rate of young people trying cigarettes and these people were now the key source of new smokers. (Li et al. 2016)

Thus, they had a user for whom they could begin designing their intervention. HPA started to engage with the 14-15 year old demographic to understand their exposure to cigarettes. It became clear that young adults were anxious about what their future held, that they were heavily influenced by friends and were beginning to be exposed to cigarettes in a social setting. (Li et al. 2016)

The creative solution that encompassed all these insights became the Stop Before You Start campaign. The campaign was centred around an anti-smoking mascot, (similar to a popular solution proposed by John Oliver), who’s characteristics and mannerisms were gross and unappealing. As relationships are a big issue in adolescence, HPA decided to use the mascot to satirise the relationship that someone develops with cigarettes (HPA 2016). All clips were filmed in locations where young people are likely to be exposed to cigarettes, which would trigger memories of the advertisements when they reengaged that environment (HPA 2016). Casting the actors as young adults envisaged a realistic, undesirable future for current teenagers (HPA 2016).

Gather results from the campaign, HPA found that the it was a resounding success. 85% of their demographic recalled the advertisements, 45% regretted taking up smoking after watching it, 33% make an effort not to smoke socially and the sentiment that smoking is ‘disgusting’ in the age group rose from 65% to 74% (Li et al. 2016). But as with any design solution in a complex problem space, there is no silver bullet solution. Anti-smoking messaging will need to continue, amongst a raft of other efforts to make New Zealand smoke free by 2025.


American Cancer Society, 2014, The study that helped spur the US stop smoking movement, American Cancer Society, viewed 12 December 2017, <https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/the-study-that-helped-spur-the-us-stop-smoking-movement.html&gt;

Gendall, P., Hoek, J., Richard, E., Glantz, S., 2016 ‘Effect of exposure to smoking in movies on young adult smoking in New Zealand’, PLOS One.

Li, J., Guiney, H., Walton, D., 2016, ‘Evidence for a young adult-targeted tobacco control campaign stimulation cessation-related responses among adult smokers and recent quitters’, New Zealand Medical Journal, vol. 129.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, 2015, Tobacco, video recording, Youtube, viewed 13 December 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UsHHOCH4q8&gt;

HPA, 2016, Stop Before You Start, HPA, viewed 13 December 2017, <https://www.hpa.org.nz/stop-before-you-start&gt;

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