Here's One Cool Way To Help Prevent Smokers From Dying

February 23rd 2015

Ian Wishingrad

I am the creator of, a campaign to encourage people to quit smoking by having their loved ones write them an obituary—except we called it a Nobituary to prevent them from dying. 

When I came up with the idea for as a 23-year-old advertising copywriter still living with his parents in Connecticut I knew I struck gold. It had all the elements of a great idea: good cause, catchy name and a highly emotional issue with minimal user effort required. Little did I know you need so much more than a great idea to bring it to market.

To give some context, advertising is very unique profession. You’re regularly tasked with persuading people to buy things they don’t need, many times things that aren’t good for them, and often times they are products or services you don’t believe in. was exactly the opposite. The entire idea was rooted in persuading people to stop smoking. That’s something you can be proud of, support and rally behind. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that mortality among smokers is two- to three times higher than non-smokers due to 21 common diseases that have been clinically proven to be linked to smoking. In fact, the science is telling us that these estimates have significantly underestimated the deaths attributable to smoking.

Even though I was a smoker at the time, was an idea I really believed in and wanted to thrust into society. “What if some random copywriter could convince someone to quit smoking?!” That’s a lot more satisfying than persuading someone to buy those shoes, eat at the restaurant or imbibe that drink, right?

I made a promise to myself that I would never stop pushing this idea no matter how many times people rejected me. And I got plenty of rejection -- from countless corporations, institutions and people -- except one: Whoopi Goldberg.

On October 1 2012 my life changed. I was attending a panel discussion during Advertising Week featuring Whoopi Goldberg. She was promoting her HBO Documentary about Mom’s Mabley and randomly mentioned that she had just quit smoking. My heart skipped a beat. I thought, “It’s now or never. You have absolutely nothing to lose. Worst-case scenario -- Whoopi feigns interest and walks away. I can deal with that rejection.” So I summoned the courage, and made a beeline for her as she exited the Neederlander Theatre. “Hey Whoopi, I have this incredible idea called a Nobituary!” She paused, and gave me a look that said, “I’m listening.” Knowing the clock was ticking I probably had 5-seconds to hook her and 30 seconds to explain, I spoke a mile a minute and described the idea. She loved it and told me to e-mail her the details. I said, “I’m going to email you in 5 minutes. The subject will say ‘Nobituary. White Jewish Guy’ you’ll know it’s me.” Within a few hours I checked my email to see that Whoopi Goldberg had replied to me. She wrote, “I LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS!!!!!!!” To say that e-mail made my day would be quite an understatement!

The next week I met with Whoopi and Tom Leonardis, her producing partner in The View’s dressing room. I fully described the idea and we agreed to be partners in the venture. I thought, “Now I have Whoopi Goldberg! This is going to be a cake walk.” WRONG! Turns out having a celebrity partner opens doors, not wallets.

For the next two years I made it my life’s mission to fully leverage the fact that EGOT [Emmy, Grammy, Oscar & Tony] winner Whoopi Goldberg was my partner, and she was ready, willing and able to support this idea. That said, we still couldn’t get anywhere. Potential supporters were gun-shy because of the 1:1 nature of the idea. Financially contributing to an app that allows one person to send another person something so personal and provocative was scary to them. It felt like people were conspiring against an idea that’s ridiculously easy to support. Who says, “nah, anti-smoking ain’t my bag” with a straight face?” Turns out, lots of people.

Over the next two years I juggled a full-time job and corralling support for Nobituary. I was able to convince everyone to work pro-bono including: Pet Gorilla, the extremely talented production company who developed the site, Media Temple who donated the servers, Director Rob Howard who shot video, Suspect VFX CEO Rob Appelblatt who animated the video and Nutmeg Post General Manager Jon Adelman to mix the audio for the video.

I knew the minute I kicked this campaign off I’d never be able to smoke again, so on December 9th 2014, I penned my own Nobituary and decided to once and for all quit smoking. It was hard for a few weeks, but then I started feeling much, much better. Living on the top floor of a 5th floor walkup makes you appreciate a fresh set of lungs.

On February 10, 2015 Whoopi Goldberg and I officially launched Since then over 3,760 Nobituaries have been made; that translates into 3,760 potential former smokers, some of whom have already quit.

3,760 down, 42 million American smokers to go.