Turkish “Sponge” leaves hotline busy signals

By Stephen Hamill
Online Communications Manager
World Lung Foundation

Leveraging a unique law that allows for free prime-time advertising for anti-tobacco ads, Turkey has adapted and launched the hard-hitting “Sponge” campaign, originally produced by the Cancer Institute New South Wales in Australia. The campaign, on both radio and television, is the first to feature Turkey’s new quit-smoking hotline.

From all accounts, the campaign has had a terrific impact, with the quit line receiving more than 200,000 calls the first month and tying up all 16 operators at all hours. The ad has also entered public consciousness, appearing in chat rooms, billboards and newspapers. One prominent columnist wrote “Have you seen the Ministry of Health’s new tv spot? It is one of the strongest ads
I have ever seen, unlike previous campaigns . . . Thank you to the Ministry of health – when I see this ad I tremble, and ask myself ‘How can people smoke?'”

In retrospect, the impact is not that surprising: One of the world’s best tobacco control ads is being aired to the world’s 10th largest male smoking population, and this is the first time a quitting resource has been offered. A busy quitline is a good problem to have; it indicates that smokers are being motivated to quit in droves. It’s worth remembering that, if the Turkish experience mirrors international evidence, every hotline call represents several other smokers who have decided to quit on their own. Even in countries with excellent, and often free, quit resources, more than 80% of smokers quit cold turkey (pun intended!) on their own.

The “Sponge” campaign is an exciting step for Turkey, who has gradually implemented more and more graphic and effective campaigns over the last three years. Buoyed by a strong anti-tobacco advocate Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country has begun implementing policy measures in every MPOWER area and become a world leader in tobacco control. Where they were once known for careless habits around smoking and health, as one recent newspaper said, “The phrase ‘Smoke Like a Turk’ seems destined for the rubbish bin of history.”


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