Tobacco Free Futures: Illicit tobacco

How do we initiate a normative shift when behaviours are so ingrained?

Controlling the price of tobacco is the single most effective lever in reducing smoking prevalence. With illicit tobacco (IT) being sold at up to half the price of legitimate products, the trade seriously undermines all other efforts to tackle nicotine addiction in the UK. The North of England Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health Programme commissioned our team to help develop an intervention to reduce both supply and demand within deprived communities.

Diffusion of influence

Rather than targeting ‘hardened’ IT buyers and sellers directly, we prioritised groups with greatest potential to influence them. This influence would then diffuse through the community, initiating a permanent shift in norms.

Integrated communications

An integrated, through-the-line comms campaign (Get Some Answers) was developed to reposition IT as a danger to the things we knew our communities held dearest: children, family, safety.

Stakeholder mobilisation

A comprehensive phase of stakeholder engagement and training equipped HMRC, Trading Standards, the Police, the UK Border Alliance, PCTs and cessation leads to support the programme.

Community Activation

In a number of areas, we built on this foundation of awareness by mobilising concerned citizens and community groups to proactively spread influence throughout the community. See separate case study.


Independent evaluation showed that the programme reached 75% of the target audience, resulting in up to:

  • 60% of citizens being more aware of the dangers of IT
  • 51% being supportive of a crackdown
  • 33% more likely to report IT activity
  • 28% less likely to purchase IT
  • 69% likely or very likely to report IT being sold to children.


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