1. What Started This?

My interest in writing this book started when I read a report titled “Improving Public Health Prevention with Behavioural, Cognitive and Neuroscience” prepared by Olivier Oullier and Sarah Sauneron for the French Secretary of State for Strategic Planning and the Development of the Digital Economy.

Yes, I am not joking, the report title is actually that they want to improve health prevention. I am sure this little error slipped in during translation.

I came across this report because I have written two books about neuromarketing and therefor I am interested in anything that involves the application of neuroscience to advertising.

The background to this report is that Oullier wants to get some money (big bucks) from the French government to pay for neuroscience methods being used to do research to find a better way to make anti-smoking advertisements. To this end he got a team of the better known neuro-scientists together to prepare a report justifying his request.

To justify his request Oullier had to explain that the existing anti-smoking measures do not work.

This is where I became interested because this is a report compiled by anti-smoking activists that has to give an honest review of the success of anti-smoking activities. At least one cannot dispel the report by suggesting it is backed by money from the cigarette industry.

Here are some quotes from the report:

“As for tobacco addiction, while the State collects approximately €10 billion each year through tobacco-related taxes, the costs for fighting against nicotine addication (sic) and its consequences (health expenditure, campaigns, loss of productivity) is estimated at the same amount.” (P. 25)

THOUGHT: I always thought that, at least, smokers are contributing to the state coffers by taxation which can be used, at least, for hospitals etc. In France all the money the state gets from smokers is spent to reduce the contribution made by the smokers?
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“However, while prevention improves health and saves lives, most health economists remain cautious with respect to prevention as a means to saving money. Indeed, in the short term, prevention has a cost, and concerns more individuals than the care, so its development does not automatically involve savings on the financial level nor always represent the most optimal allocation of resources.” (P.26)
THOUGHT: If most economists are skeptical about the benefits of anti-smoking campaigns then what are the benefits of these campaigns? I thought that it all had a mostly to do with economics (public benefit).
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“Any evaluation of preventive action requires the choice of a deadline for a return on investment. Sometimes, prevention initiatives only show their benefit after a very long period that is not easy to identify. It is therefore necessary to bring both the costs and the benefits up to date.” (P26)
THOUGHT: I admit that I never thought about this – even if they did state it very obliquely. Anti-smoking activities has to be aimed at the young people (say before age 20), the benefit is that they will be less likely to get cancer when they are 60 – or more. Thus the economic payback time is 40 years from now!
So, France is using 10billion Euro’s income from tax to influence smoking now and will only get a benefit from this in 40 years! No wonder the French have economic problems.
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“Economic tools (tax/grants) have traditionally constituted an important means for the policies employed in the fight against harmful substances in France. While price increases (cf. Tobacco) lead to beneficial effects on global consumption level, they still constitute a heavy drain on the budget of smokers unable to reduce their consumption. Such persistent smokers are (sic) have low-income (if not facing poverty) in a significant number of the cases. Particularly for people in a situation of serious financial uncertainty, cigarettes constitute a way to kill time, reduce anxiety and can lead to sacrificing other kinds of consumption (especially food).”
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THOUGHT: I have been told by a friend in the cigarette industry that price increases has a direct effect on consumption. Everything I read shows that this is so. Yet, one continuously come across the statement that because it will affect the people that need to smoke the most, price should not be used to reduce smoking. Read the quote above again and then ask yourself whether this is not a great contradiction.
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“Penalization of the poor could possibly be compensated if the tax income collected over tobacco products were used to support the policies for helping people to stop smoking, but this second stage is far from being reached.”
THOUGHT: Here is a nice contradiction in the thinking. It is OK to collect the taxes from the poor, then to use it to stop them smoking via advertising etc. which is expected to have a benefit in 40 years time. But, lets not increase the price too much because this actually works and they need to smoke.
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“Communication is only one of the vectors mobilised to reduce the consumption of tobacco, and it is difficult to isolate the contribution or each one. From a questionnaire sent to correspondents of the European Network for Smoking in 28 European countries, and referring the contribution of all the measures in the fight against smoking to a base of 100, experts have made an estimate of the influence of each factor:
− the price of a packet: 30
− prohibiting smoking in public places: 22 ;
− government expenditure on awareness campaigns: 15 ;
− forbidding all tobacco advertising and promotion: 13 ;
− health warnings: 10 ;
− helping dependent smokers to stop: 10.” (P71)
THOUGHT: So the experts agree that price is the most effective, and largely that everything is not effective at all. To rate even price as 30/100 in effectiveness is not very high.
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 “Faced with the repeated failures of the various strategies introduced, public authorities must explore new options to improve the policies to prevent this plague.” (P75)
THOUGHT: I am not sure that a health document should use the word ‘plague’ as they do. However, the more important point is the admission that all strategies have failed. So why are the French spending 10 billion euros on something that they know is failing, and even if it does not fail will only yield returns in 40 years?
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 “The Evin Law (1991) prohibits any kind of tobacco advertising (TV, magazines, radio, posters, sponsorship, PR, Internet, etc.). It has not had the intended effect of changing the positive image of this product, as huge marketing efforts are being made by the tobacco industry to combat it and continue communicating the product via advertising tools reminding people of the brand universe. Proof of the existence of such illegal communication can be found in the internal documentation of cigarette manufacturers, but also by observing their activities out in the field.” (P 77)
THOUGHT: So the Evin Law has not had the desired effect? We are talking about 20 years of spending most of the taxes derived from cigarette sales having had less than the desired effect. Surely politicians are not that stupid.
Something smells not right here.

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