Research Impact


UCL research informs ‘Stoptober’ helping thousands to quit smoking

Research from UCL’s Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group has helped shape the annual ‘Stoptober’ campaign - which has seen around 350,000 people quit smoking each year since launching in 2013.

A packet of cigarettes

12 April 2022

Smoking has long been known to be destructive to health, and more than half of UK smokers want to quit, but simply focusing on the harms caused by smoking in public health campaigns has not always been effective.  

Research by the UCL Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group (UTARG) has been critical to the funding, underpinning theory and practical application of the Department of Health/Public Health England’s highly successful ‘Stoptober’ campaign - a positive mass quitting event with active support around making one specific change: laying off the cigarettes for 28 days in October.  

Following the science on smoking   

UCL Professors Robert West and Jamie Brown and Principal Research Fellow Emma Beard’s research on the health impact of mass quitting campaigns helped to secure national investment for the first campaign, as well as informing its Autumn timing, which UTARG identified as a fallow period for quitting activity. Relapse data produced by UTARG and other research groups shaped the campaign’s central feature of a 28-day smoke-free challenge, having shown that smokers who achieved the goal would be at least five times more likely to stop smoking for good.  

The campaign used ideas from Robert West and Jamie Brown’s influential book, ‘The Theory of Addiction’, which argues that long-term quitting is more likely if support is provided that targets people’s whole motivational system rather than just parts of it. Borrowing from this idea, ‘Stoptober’ provided a variety of support, including postal support packs; digital tools; peer support via Facebook; an app; and motivational text messaging. 

A cost-effective campaign  

A UTARG evaluation using data on quit attempts from 31,566 past-year smokers estimated that ‘Stoptober’ led to more than 350,000 smokers trying to quit in October 2012, the first year of the campaign, than would have occurred otherwise. The cost-effectiveness compared favourably with other UK quit smoking campaigns, with a cost to government of £414.26 per discounted life year (a measure of impact on future healthy life and longevity) in the average age group, and £557.70 across the general population. 

These findings were critical to the decision to make Stoptober an annual campaign, and informed Public Health England’s social marketing strategy. Projecting these effects from 2013 to 2020, Stoptober saved an estimated 83,200 discounted life years in England.   

Influencing policy around the world  

Internationally, ‘Stoptober’ has been adopted in France, generating an estimated 380,000 quit attempts, and in the Netherlands where an estimated 50,000 people participated each year. New Zealand ran a similar campaign between 2014 and 2016. 

UTARG evidence on the impact of smoking cessation public campaigns and the arguments for continued spending on them have featured both in House of Commons debate on a new Tobacco Control Strategy and in parliamentary debate on ‘Smoke-free England 2030’, as well as a government press release to mark the start of Stoptober 2020, which directly cited the UCL work. 

Research synopsis

Smoking cessation research shapes ‘Stoptober’ campaign, helping thousands to quit 

Research evidence and theory from UCL’s Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group helped shape the annual ‘Stoptober’ public health campaign, a mass national quitting event for smokers. An extra 350,000 people were estimated to have quit each year since the annual event’s launch in 2013, and it has inspired similar campaigns around the world.