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Hard habit to break

On average, GPs see 13 patients a month who ask for help to quit smoking. However, Nicotine Replacement Therapy ads are failing to generate high levels of GP interest.

nicoretteFor the millions of smokers in the UK, the start of a new year is a popular time to try and quit. According to Department of Health statistics, nearly 205,000 people gave up smoking successfully last year after receiving help from the NHS Stop Smoking Services. This is an increase of 65 per cent on 2003 figures. The services have been set up to help tackle the high levels of disease and death caused by smoking and are supported by big budgets.

In 2004, around 360,000 people set a quit date through the stop smoking services in England. More than three in four of those who set a date received Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), 30,200 (8 per cent) received Zyban and 3,800 (1 per cent) received both NRT and Zyban.

Smokers now have access to a range of services to help them quit, including:

  • A national telephone helpline
  • Nicotine Replacement Therapy and Zyban on prescription
  • One-to-one counselling
  • Advice and group support.

GPs say that, on average, they see 13 patients a month who ask for help quitting. When asked which brand of NRT they are most likely to recommend to help patients quit - Nicorette or NiQuitin CQ - 34 per cent said they would recommend Nicorette, 23 per cent said they would recommend either brand and 22 per cent would recommend NiQuitin CQ. However, 15 per cent of GPs wouldn't recommend either of these nicotine replacement therapies to patients.

The Nicorette ad developed for this audience features a human cigarette employed in the consumer advertising campaign. The ad focuses on the fact that Nicorette is a 16-hour patch that won't interrupt people's sleep.

The NiQuitin CQ ad features a young woman refusing a cigarette from a box, with the strapline I've got the will, please give me a way.

Testing times
In blind tests, the ad for Nicorette was recalled by 32 per cent of GPs and correctly identified by brand by 30 per cent of these. It could be that the consumer ad campaign helped to create greater awareness for this brand.

However, unbranded awareness is still lower than the norm as, according to GfK Martin Hamblin's MARS database of medical ads, the Nicorette ad under-performs in this regard by 20 per cent. NiQuitin CQ was recalled by only 15 per cent of GPs proportionally, half of whom recalled the Nicorette ad.

When asked which product they thought was being advertised, 23 per cent of those who recalled the ad correctly identified the product.

When the full branding for both ads was revealed to the GPs, only 37 per cent recognised Nicorette; not much of an increase on the unbranded test (32 per cent). NiQuitin CQ was only recalled by 17 per cent of GPs with the full branding displayed. The average medical ad achieves 52 per cent recall when full branding is given.

Calling a halt
The ads were also tested for stopping power, one of the key measures for judging advertising effectiveness. The results revealed that while GPs found both NRT brand ads to be impactful, they did't find them to be particularly interesting.

Seventy-nine per cent of GPs said they would recommend a form of NRT therapy to a patient who was trying to give up smoking, even if it wasn't one of the two brands evaluated. Nicorette was most likely to be recommended and the ad performed slightly better in tests, although recall was fairly low and interest was below par.

It could be that GPs feel they know what nicotine patches do, so they are not very interested in them. However, in this battle for interest levels, when is comes to advertising to GPs, Pfizer, the company behind Nicorette, still has a slight edge over the competition, for the moment at least.

The Survey
We asked 200 GPs to talk to us about patients, smoking and nicotine replacement therapies and to evaluate ads for Nicorette and NiQuitin CQ to find out if the advertising campaigns were effective and which brand, if any, GPs are more likely to recommend.

We asked them how many times a month patients ask them for advice about giving up smoking. The data for GP monitor was gathered using Generator, the monthly omnibus from GfK Martin Hamblin.

The Authors
For more information, contact Mo Rice on 020 7340 0504 ( or Julie McGuigan on 020 7340 0534 (

2nd September 2008


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