Impact of Promotion of the Great American Smokeout and Availability of OTC Nicotine Medications

Oncology, ONCOLOGY Vol 11 No 10, Volume 11, Issue 10

The 1996 Great American Smokeout, sponsored by the American Cancer Society (ACS), was held on November 21 and

The 1996 Great American Smokeout, sponsored by the American Cancer Society (ACS), was held on November 21 and included a national promotional campaign in collaboration with a distributor of over-the-counter (OTC) nicotine medications. The 1996 Smokeout was the first to use a national promotion that included paid advertising of the Smokeout through television, magazines, and newspapers; direct-to-consumer promotions; and educational activities about the Smokeout in retail stores that sell OTC nicotine medications.a To estimate the impact of this promotional partnership between ACS and a distributor of OTC nicotine medications on smoking-cessation activity, the collaboratorsb analyzed data from three sources. This report summarizes the findings, which suggest that the promotional campaign, combined with OTC availability of nicotine medications, encouraged smoking-cessation activity.

The 1996 Smokeout promotion encouraged quitting in general and did not promote any specific brand of nicotine medications; the focus of the promotion was on quitting on the day of the Smokeout, November 21. In addition, brand-specific nicotine medication advertising largely did not change during the 1996 promotion. To estimate the number of persons exposed to television promotions of the Smokeout, A. C. Nielsen’s National TV Index Service assessed the number of times viewers in the study sample were exposed to an advertisement; such exposures are known as impressions.

The Sample

To estimate awareness of and participation in the Smokeout, including efforts to quit smoking on the day of the Smokeout, ACS commissioned Lieberman Research, Inc., to conduct random-digit-dialed telephone surveys in 1995 and 1996. In 1995, a survey of 5,504 adults age ³ 21 years, including 1,366 smokers, was conducted from November 17 through November 26. The nationally representative sample comprised ³ 100 interviews in each of 48 states; the District of Columbia; Long Island, New York; and the cities of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and New York, New York. Data were weighted to produce national estimates.

In 1996, a nationwide survey of 983 adults age ³ 21 years was conducted from November 22 through November 26. Smokers were oversampled (N = 379), and the data were weighted to produce nationally representative estimates. Respondents in the 1995 and 1996 surveys were asked, “On the day of the Great American Smokeout, which of these things did you do: not smoke cigarettes at all; cut down the number of cigarettes you usually smoke; or smoke as much as usual?”

Retail sales of OTC nicotine medications (ie, Nicorette nicotine chewing gum, NicoDerm CQ nicotine patches, and Nicotrol nicotine patches)c in 1996 were estimated by A. C. Nielsen’s InFact Service, which tallies purchases entered at the cash registers of food, drug, and mass merchandisers by electronic universal product code (UPC) scanner. Data were collected from a nationally representative sample of 10,000 outlets located primarily in the top 50 major markets. Purchases from retail outlets without scanner technology were estimated by a sample of those stores. The sample was then weighted to estimate total unit purchases from all outlets.

The resulting figures underestimate actual sales (by comparison with factory shipments); therefore, this analysis assumes a 5% underestimation of sales. Projected sales of all three OTC nicotine medications were adjusted to account for underestimation. The baseline period was defined as the 4-week period ending November 2, and the Smokeout promotion period was the 4-week period ending November 30.

The Ad Campaign

The National TV Index Service reported that the paid advertising specifically for the Smokeout reached 122.1 million adults age ³ 18 years an average of 2.9 times during the 3 weeks before and the week of the Smokeout, representing a total of approximately 354 million television impressions nationally. Assuming equal distribution of these impressions among smokers and nonsmokers, an estimated 30.5 million smokers (64% of all US smokers) were exposed to Smokeout promotions.

Responses to the 1995 and 1996 Lieberman surveys were compared to determine whether Smokeout -related smoking-reduction and smoking-cessation rates changed from 1995 to 1996. During this period, the percentage of respondents who initiated any action during the Smokeout (either reducing or quitting smoking) increased from 18% in 1995 to 26% in 1996 (Table 1). The percentage who reported quitting remained the same (5% in 1995 vs 6% in 1996); however, the percentage who reported reducing their smoking during the Smokeout increased significantly, from 13% in 1995 to 20% in 1996. In 1996, reports of smoking behavior were examined at the time of the interview (1 to 5 days following the Smokeout): 6% of respondents reported quitting smoking, while 15% reduced their smoking.

Smoking-cessation activity involving the use of nicotine medications was estimated using retail sales of such products as reported by InFact. During the 4-week Smokeout promotional period, sales of nicotine medications increased by 11% (136,000 units), compared with sales during the baseline period. The proportion of units purchased by new users or by repeat purchasers cannot be determined precisely; however, the smallest package of OTC nicotine medication provides approximately 7 days of therapy; therefore, in this analysis, only the increase in sales during the week ending November 23 was assumed to be due to new purchasers and thus new quit attempts.d Compared with weekly average sales during the entire 4-week baseline period (306,400 units), sales during the week ending November 23 increased 30% (92,600 units), representing a total of 399,000 units. Thus, the enhanced promotional activities and the Smokeout promotion were associated with an estimated 92,600 attempts at quitting smoking using nicotine medications.

Editorial Note from the CDC

Based on nationally representative data for 1965-1994, the prevalence of cigarette smoking in the United States appears to have reached a plateau of approximately 25%. Reducing the initiation of smoking among youth is a priority reflected in the Food and Drug Administration’s final tobacco rule, as well as in ongoing public education and awareness efforts, such as the Smokeout. In addition, encouraging cessation is a priority; reducing adult smoking produces substantial short-term and long-term benefits in health improvements and cost savings. Since 1977, ACS has sponsored the annual Smokeout to encourage smokers to stop smoking for at least 24 hours. Evaluation of mass media campaigns and previous Smokeout efforts suggests that public promotions can increase smoking-cessation activity.

The findings in this report suggest that the Smokeout promotional campaign and OTC availability of nicotine medications encouraged smoking-cessation activity. These findings illustrate the substantial impact of an intensive event-related campaign in promoting smoking-cessation activity. In comparison, data from another source on the use of nicotine medications in 1995 indicated only a 2% monthly increase in nicotine medication prescriptions for November over the annual average; however, there was no promotional campaign or OTC availability of the products. OTC availability of the nicotine patch and nicotine gum appears to remove a possible barrier to their use (ie, obtaining a prescription) and allows more direct promotion of these products and smoking cessation to the general public.

A recent analysis conducted in a setting that simulated OTC availability of three currently available OTC nicotine medications found a continuous (biochemically validated) quit rate of 8% at 12 months using data pooled across studies. Using the single-week comparison as the most valid indicator of initial quitting attempts (rather than repurchase) and assuming that any product purchased was used for a quit attempt, the increase in nicotine medication use attributable to the 1996 Smokeout promotion produced an estimated 7,400 additional former smokers.


The findings in this report are subject to at least three limitations:

First, because no record was maintained of nonrespondents for the Lieberman surveys, response rates could not be calculated. As a result, the level of response bias cannot be determined.

Second, the sampling methods of the 1995 and 1996 surveys were different; however, data from both surveys were weighted to produce nationally representative data and, therefore, were considered comparable.

Third, the estimate of the impact of the promotional campaign on smoking cessation may not be precise because all purchasers of nicotine medications were assumed to be the user of the product and because retail sales data comprise both new and repeat purchases.

The findings in this report suggest that promoting smoking cessation can increase quit attempts. Smokers interested in quitting smoking should be strongly encouraged to do so and should optimize their chances for quitting by using effective treatments as outlined by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research. Marketing and promotion efforts designed to promote attempts to quit, along with OTC availability of nicotine medications, are a useful part of a national strategy to decrease the prevalence of smoking.

Adapted from Morbid Mortal Weekly Report, vol 46, no. 37, September 19, 1997.