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Tracking illicit tobacco in the North of England

In 2009, a major research study was undertaken to inform the development of effective social marketing campaigns and other activity as part of The North of England Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health programme. Just over 6000 telephone and face-to-face interviews were conducted across the North West, North East and Yorkshire and Humber regions. The results gave understanding of the illicit tobacco market, and segmentation analysis gave focus and direction to the development of strategies, and ultimately campaigns, to tackle the problem of illicit tobacco.
In 2011, NEMS Market Research was asked to repeat the study across the North West and North East regions achieving just over 4,000 face to face and telephone interviews. This repeat study was to provide comparisons against the 2009 baseline, which was of comparative size, methodology and scope. The results were able to highlight significant changes within the illicit tobacco market over the past two years and identified positive shifts in attitudes towards illicit tobacco

Key benefits:

  • Gained a clear picture of the illicit tobacco market highlighting a reduction in supply and demand.
  • Identified tangible shifts in attitudes towards illicit tobacco.
  • Revealed a complex relationship of drivers for the purchase of illicit tobacco.
This was the third time that we have worked with NEMS and the service was very good. We asked them to do a lot in a short time and they delivered exactly what we'd asked for.
David Wiggins, - Smokefree North West

Our Assigment

In 2011, Smokefree North West, in association with a collection of partner organisations, commissioned NEMS to repeat the 2009 research study which was to inform the development of effective social marketing campaigns and other activity as part of The North of England Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health programme. This repeat study, conducted across the North West and North East regions (excluding Yorkshire & Humberside) would provide comparisons against the 2009 baseline, which was of comparative size, methodology and scope.
The main focus of the 2011 study was to recognise any changes within the illicit tobacco market, identify any shifts in attitudes towards illicit tobacco and whether current strategies and campaigns could be attributed to these shifts. Small changes to the questionnaire to expand on data collection and exceed survey objectives were carefully considered to ensure that the focus of comparing the two sets of results was not lost.

Results

The proportion of smokers buying illicit tobacco has reduced over the last two years by 2 percentage points to 18% with the highest reduction being among the 16-34 year age group (5-6 percentage points). Young smokers (14-24 years) still remain more likely to purchase illicit tobacco.
Not only are the number of illicit tobacco buyers less, but those who are buying have reduced the proportion of tobacco that they buy that is illicit from 36% to 33%.
Awareness of illicit tobacco among non-smokers has increased by 15 percentage points to 69% in 2011.
Attitudes towards illicit tobacco were used to define a comfort scale; those who are comfortable has remained the same at 7%, however, there is a notable shift in those who are very uncomfortable which has seen an increase of 3 percentage points. Nearly 3 out of 10 (29%) respondents indicated that they would be likely to report someone they suspected of selling illicit tobacco (a 3 percentage point increase from 2009).
The research indicates a decline in the perception that buying illicit tobacco being a social norm, with a significant reduction among illicit tobacco purchasers of 16 percentage points to 52% for those who feel ‘Everyone does it’.
In the current climate, price differential is still a key driver to purchase illicit tobacco, however this in conjunction with availability / opportunity to buy, attitudes towards illicit tobacco and perceived product quality was revealed as a complex relationship of drivers for the purchase of illicit tobacco.
As in the previous study, the overall market was segmented into attitude groups and these were profiled to assist with future targeting of activity.

Benefits

As in the 2009 study, this latest research met the objectives relating to the understanding of behaviour, attitudes, motivation and communication; not just among users of illicit tobacco, but also the wider community of smokers and non-smokers.
Understanding the structure and dynamics of any market is crucial to developing effective strategies and illicit tobacco is no exception. This recent research was able to build on the previous study and identify any major shifts in attitudes towards illicit tobacco and have a clear picture of the illicit tobacco market, identifying social, demographic and/or geographic changes within this market. In conjunction with segmentation analysis to identify key groups, this recent study has quantified shifts in attitudes and the reduction of the illicit tobacco market with strategies and social marketing campaigns over the last two years.

Our Approach

In this recent study, just over 4,000 interviews were conducted across the North West, North East (a total of over 10,000 interviews across the two studies), using an almost equal mix of both telephone and in-street interviewing.
To provide significant subsamples of key groups (e.g. smokers and illicit tobacco buyers), the overall sample incorporated three main components: a representative of all adults; a booster sample of smokers and a specific sample of young persons (aged 14-15 years).
Interviewing was undertaken in all of the 49 Trading Standards areas making up the regions. The sampling was also carefully constructed to ensure appropriate representation of both urban and rural areas.
Quota controls were applied on gender, age and smokers/non-smokers.

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NEMS Market Research Limited. Company registered in England no. 393 8078 Telephone: 01642 373355 Email: advice@nemsmr.co.uk