CDC Launches Graphic Anti-Smoking Ad Campaign

Ads Feature Former Smokers Living With Smoking-Related Disease and Disability

By Rita Rubin
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 15, 2012 -- The CDC is launching a nationwide graphic anti-smoking campaign that features "tips" from former smokers, such as how to get ready in the morning when you have a hole in your neck because of throat cancer.

"The ad campaign we're launching today will tell the real story," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, MPA, said at a news conference in Washington, D.C.

Beginning Monday, ads will run for at least 12 weeks on television, radio, billboards, online, in theaters, magazines, and newspapers nationwide. The stars of the campaign are real people living with smoking-related diseases such as lung and throat cancer, heart disease and stroke, and disabilities such as amputations.

The primary audience is adult smokers aged 18 through 54, and the secondary audience includes smokers' family members, as well as teens and their parents, according to the CDC.

"We applaud these individuals for publicly sharing how smoking has shattered their lives so that others may learn from their tragic experiences," Charles D. Connor, American Lung Association president and CEO, said in a statement. "This campaign is long overdue, is powerful, and will have a significant impact on reducing tobacco use."

The $54 million campaign consists of eight television spots, including one about secondhand smoke in Spanish; seven radio spots that are 30 seconds and 60 seconds in length; seven print ads in various sizes; and five billboard and bus stop ads. About 70% of current smokers say they want to quit, according to the CDC, so the broadcast spots and print ads include a toll-free phone number, 800-QUIT-NOW, and a web site smokers can contact in search of help quitting.

In just the first two days of the year, the tobacco industry spent more on marketing cigarettes than the CDC will spend this year on its ad campaign, CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, said at the news conference.

Each year, more than 443,000 Americans die from smoking-related illnesses, according to the CDC, which will study the new campaign's impact on smoking in the United States. "For every person who dies, 20 more Americans live with an illness caused by smoking," Sebelius said.

Quitting can reduce the risk of smoking-related diseases, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD -- whose mother and uncle died as a result of smoking -- said at the press conference. "As a family physician, I tell my patients ... quitting gives your body a chance to heal the damage caused by smoking," Benjamin said. For example, she said, former smokers' lung cancer risk drops by half 10 years after they quit.

Credibility Factor

Jeremy Kees, PhD, an assistant marketing professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania whose work has focused on the impact of graphic warnings on cigarette packages, calls the new ads "powerful."

"That TV commercial, that makes my stuff look tame," Kees tells WebMD. He was referring to a 35-second spot in which North Carolina resident Terrie Hall, 51, places a wig on her bald head, inserts her dentures, and covers her stoma, a hole in her throat, with a scarf. Hall, who spoke at the news conference, said she smoked up to two packs a day for 23 years, until she was diagnosed with larynx cancer at age 40.

"What I really liked about these ads is the credibility factor, the believability factor," Kees says. "The reach isn't going to be as broad as the on-package warnings, but I tell you what, in terms of the potential to really have an impact, this campaign is powerful."

Two weeks ago, a U.S. District Court judge in Washington declared that the FDA's plan to force tobacco companies to feature graphic warnings on cigarette packages violated the manufacturers' first amendment free speech rights. In November, the judge issued a preliminary injunction against the warnings, which the Obama administration has appealed.

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SOURCES: Jeremy Kees, marketing professor, Villanova University in

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