New Department of Health campaigns funded

A hand holding a cigarette The report said the health campaign advertising freeze had affected those attempting to quit smoking

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The coalition government has announced funding for new public health campaigns, despite a previous freeze on all marketing and advertising.

Ministers announced a freeze last year on the £540m annual advertising budget, except on what was regarded on "essential" campaigns.

The government will now spend £44m on four campaigns in England.

A Department of Health (DoH) spokeswoman said the freeze "was never intended to be indefinite".

The release of funds comes after a DoH report called Changing Behaviour, Improving Outcomes, published a month ago, found that following the funding restrictions, the number of people joining Change4Life, a healthier living campaign, fell by 80%.

'Negative impact'

Calls to the Change4Life information line fell by 90% and visits to its website reduced by two thirds.

Also, calls to the Frank helpline, which advises about drug use, fell by 22% and there were 17% fewer visits to its website.

The report also found that visits to the NHS Smokefree website fell by 50%. The volume of people attempting to quit also fell, in line with the reduction in the amount of money spent on media advertising.

Start Quote

I am pleased the civil service has put this in front of the politicians and that the politicians have seen some sense”

End Quote Professor Geof Rayner Change4Life

The report goes on to say that "evidence submitted to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health concluded that the cessation of marketing activity has resulted in declining quit attempts and subsequent loss of life from smoking-related illness".

It added: "Following the coalition government's freeze on non-essential marketing expenditure, all social marketing programmes were reduced and expenditure on advertising all but ceased.

"We have now had the opportunity to learn from the freeze and to assess where the loss of mass communications had a negative impact.

"We now recommend that some advertising, and other forms of mass communication such as sponsorship, paid media partnerships and PR, be resumed."

'High impact'

Now £15m is being released to fund the Smokefree website, £14m for Change4Life, £11m for advertising issues affecting older people, and £4m for targeting improvements to the lives of young people. The money will be spent during 2011-12.

Professor Geof Rayner, who advises Change4Life, told the Observer that he welcomed the funding release.

"I am pleased the civil service has put this in front of the politicians and that the politicians have seen some sense.

"They should be pragmatic, not ideological, about public health."

The DoH said: "The marketing freeze was never intended to be indefinite. We have used it as an opportunity to look at what really works.

"Our campaigns have a high impact. A recent study found that two-thirds of the public think advertising is vital to the success of government campaigns."

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