Taking the pressure off the spring: the case of rebounding smoking rates when antitobacco campaigns ceased

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Abstract

Objective

Smoking rates have been compared with a spring, requiring continuous downward pressure against protobacco forces, rather than a screw, which once driven down stays down. Quality antitobacco mass media campaigns put downward pressure on smoking rates. The suspension of a major Australian state campaign provided a natural experiment to assess effects on smoking. Furthermore, we document the positive influence of robust monitoring and mature advocacy on the political decision to reinstate funding. We also document the misuse by industry of South Australian smoking data from the period between Australia's implementation and subsequent evaluation of plain packaging.

Methods

A time series analysis was used to examine monthly smoking prevalence trends at each of four intervention points: (A) commencement of high-intensity mass media campaign (August 2010); (B) introduction of plain packaging (December 2012), (C) defunding of campaign (July 2013); and (D) reinstatement of moderate-intensity campaign (July 2014).

Findings

The suspension of the antitobacco campaign was disruptive to achieving smoking prevalence targets. There was an absence of a downward monthly smoking prevalence trajectory during the non-campaign period. Moreover, there was a significant decline in smoking prevalence during the period of high-intensity advertising, which continued after the introduction of plain packaging laws, and at the recommencement of campaign activity.

Conclusions

While the observed declines in smoking prevalence are likely due to a combination of interventions and cannot be attributed exclusively to antitobacco advertising, the results reinforce the political decision to reinstate the campaign and demonstrate the need for maintained investment to keep downward pressure on smoking rates.

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