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Six ways to prepare for Stoptober

pharmacy smoking cessation services

By Vincent Forrester
Freelance journalist

06 Aug 2018

The annual awareness campaign will soon be upon us. So how can you make the most of it, asks Vincent Forrester


Since launching in 2012, Stoptober has become one of the largest, most high-profile national health campaigns in the UK. Run every October by Public Health England (PHE), the campaign is based on research showing that smokers who give up for 28 days are five times more likely to quit completely. The six campaigns so far have driven more than one million smokers to try and quit.

Stoptober now forms part of PHE’s One You campaign that targets the unhealthy habits and behaviours – such as poor diet,  smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and physical inactivity – that cost the NHS £11bn a year.

With most pharmacies now taking part in Stoptober, we spoke to two industry experts as well as PHE’s communications team to ask what advice they would offer
to pharmacists preparing for this year’s campaign.

Make a plan

Under the community pharmacy framework, pharmacies are expected – or required, in the case of Healthy Living Pharmacies (HLPs) – to complete six campaigns a year. Since Stoptober is at the same time every year, it makes planning for the campaigns straightforward. ‘If you know you’re going to do this in October, you can say: ‘OK, in the months beforehand, we need to decide what we’re going to put in place to augment the campaign,’ says Michael Holden, the principal associate at training group Pharmacy Complete.

It is important to be comprehensive in your thinking, says Gavin Birchall, a marketing expert who was formerly the operations director for pharmacy chain MedicX: ‘It’s about reviewing what you did last year to identify what worked and what didn’t work.’


Utilise the national campaign…

Stoptober is unlike many pharmacy campaigns in that it does not originate in pharmacy. This means there is ‘a huge amount of work – and awareness – out there already that you can build upon, which is great,’ says Mr Birchall. ‘You’re not starting from scratch.’

Central to this are the marketing products distributed for free by the Stoptober campaign. ‘They’ll offer some really high-quality promotional materials that
you could use, whether it be posters, social media banners or website banners,’ says Mr Birchall. ‘It will be really high-quality, really nicely prepared and designed and thought-out, and it will get across the key messages.’

PHE communications officer Philippa Simons points out that pharmacy teams can also signpost smokers to the Stoptober website, ‘where they will find a range of free and proven support tools, including apps, email and social media support’.


… but tailor your offering to your area

‘Obviously, the national campaign is targeted at a very wide, diverse group,’ says Mr Birchall. ‘It may be that your local population has some unusual characteristics that relate to their smoking behaviour, in which case you should understand those.’


Work with other pharmacies

Pharmacy Complete runs a private Facebook group for HLP health champions. ‘They can share ideas on what they’ve done, share pictures, ask questions
of each other and of us,’ says Mr Holden. ‘It’s great to see some of the stuff that comes through on that.’

He recommends local pharmacies join forces to promote Stoptober. ‘They may not collaborate in terms of business, but when it comes to adding value to the community through health promotion they will collaborate really well,’ he says. ‘It takes the pressure off one individual or one pharmacy; if several pharmacies are working together, the impact is bigger.’


Co-ordinate your own campaign

Ensure all your communications speak to each other and have the same message, says Mr Birchall. ‘Make sure you know exactly what you’re going to do and when: update your website at the same time as your social media channels; when the posters go up in the pharmacy, the bag stuffers get stuffed in the prescription bags. This way, it becomes a genuine campaign and multiple customer touchpoint, instead of just a poster stuck up on a noticeboard.’


Refresh your knowledge

With smoking trends changing – in particular, the emergence of e-cigarettes – it is worth brushing up on smoking cessation. Ms Simons points to the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training, which provides free online training modules on stop-smoking medicines.

‘Make sure the team are prepared in terms of changes in products, that the campaign reflects that and the team are prepared to answer questions and provide support that customers want,’ says Mr Birchall. ‘The object is satisfied quitters. It’s not achieving a quitter at all costs; it’s about getting them there in a way that means they’ll be a quitter for life.’

Mr Holden says Pharmacy Complete offers cards that explain how best to approach the conversation with a patient, because it can be a sensitive subject. ‘They use open discovery questions, which always start with “how” or “what”. You get a lot of information across by asking questions, rather than telling. Telling people they should give up is a waste of time.’

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