Anti-smoking campaign gets people curious about what they’re missing out on

A coalition of health charities take a cue from lifestyle advertising.


A coalition of health charities is taking a serious but “curious” approach to smoking cessation, informed by lifestyle trends that have been gaining traction with Canadians.

With online queries such as “plant curious” or “sober curious” gaining prominence in the popular discourse, the Canadian Cancer Society – which is leading the project – is hoping its first national smoking campaign a decade hits a more nuanced note with those pursuing healthier lifestyles.

The creative shows smokers in a variety of situations – or, rather, missing out on them, as they watch from afar as friends laugh at a restaurant, teammates socialize after a game or a family plays a park while they take a smoke break. The big question the campaign wants to answer for smokers is what a smoke-free lifetsyle looks like, be it having more energy, more time with loved ones or feeling free from constant cravings.

“It’s an interesting and innovative approach to tobacco cessation,” says Terri Schneider, manager for cancer prevention strategic initiatives at the Canadian Cancer Society. She says it’s a different way in to its target audience: people who’ve tried to quit on multiple occasions and have likely seen campaigns focused on health impacts.

The overarching goal is increasing awareness to as many Canadians as possible of free nicotine replacement services, which can be accessed through the “Smoke Free Curious” website.

The partners include The Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Public Health Association, the Canadian Lung Association and Heart & Stroke, all of which were approached by Health Canada to do the work.

To drive awareness, “Smoke Free Curious” (“Curieux D’Arrêtez” in French) is being launched across digital screens in convenience stores nationally, through 15-second spots on connected TV, on social, as well as search and geo-targeted mobile advertising.

The integrated campaign also includes three online films, a microsite, support resources and free nicotine reduction therapy available through registration on the website. It also features a motivational quitting contest: the “First Week Challenge,” a contest the  Canadian Cancer Society has run for several years, engaging people to make a 7-day quit attempt at the onset of the month to win a raffle prize of $1,000.

According to Stats Canada data, 2.3 million people between 35 and 64 smoke cigarettes either daily or on occasion, and smoking continues to be the number one cause of disease or death in Canada.

Schneider says the pandemic has had mixed results on those stats. Some people’s fear of getting sick and having more time at home has helped their efforts to quit smoking, but others have turned to nicotine thanks to boredom, stress and being disconnected from their social networks.

The campaign is running during National Smoking Cessation Week, and continues until end of March 2022, with sustaining messages in market until March 2023.

“This is an amplified media spend,” says Schneider, acknowledging support from Health Canada and its partners.

The campaign was created by lead agency Art & Science, a shop with which the Society has working for approximately two years, including work on The Expand Project, a tobacco cessation project targeting LGBTQ2S+ people. Headspace Marketing handled French adaptation, with Asymmetric Productions handling production of the films.