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CDC escalates war against tobacco

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
smoking cessation, cancer, cardiovascular disease, teen smoking, ad campaign

In addition to military campaigns, a variety of wars are ongoing in the US, including such focuses as poverty, women, and racial discrimination. On March 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a new campaign against tobacco. The 12-week, $54 million advertising barrage, termed “Tips From Former Smokers,” will portray the health risks of smoking in unpleasant detail. The campaign falls on the heels of a federal judge’s February 29 ruling to ban graphic cigarette ads on cigarette packages.

Including the new CDC campaign, the war on tobacco is being waged by other government entities. For example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now imposes regulations regarding manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of tobacco products; furthermore, the agency has increased funding for tobacco cessation. The FDA proposed the recently banned graphic tobacco ads and may continue that battle as well.

The new CDC campaign is expected to have significant impact. A 2008 report by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reported that anti-smoking media campaigns reduce smoking among both teens and adults; deemed most effective, were those with strong messages that developed an emotional response. In addition, a 2012 review of published studies reported that testimonials warning about the risks of smoking were especially effective in the promotion of smoking cessation.

The CDC estimates that approximately 45.3 million Americans smoke cigarettes. This number represents a significant decline from recent decades; however, smoking rates have not changed significantly in the past five years. The current rate is approximately 20%; thus, health authorities are searching for new ways to promoted smoking cessation. One group that is resistant to smoking cessation programs is teens. According to the U.S. surgeon general's report on youth smoking released last week, one in four high school seniors regularly smoke cigarettes; furthermore, approximately 80% are predicted to quit smoking when they release adulthood. It is common knowledge that many teens have a sense of invincibility and pay little attention to problems that “old people” experience.

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The CDC is hopeful that the new campaign will not only encourage adults to quit but also get through to teens. The ads are scheduled to appear on television, radio, online, in print media, on billboards, and at bus stops. The focus of the graphic ads is to encourage smokers to quit and to increase awareness for the damage caused by smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke.

In essence, the ads portray actual effects of smoking on real individuals. They display cancer, heart attacks, stroke, amputation and what one must endure to live under those conditions. One print ad features a 50-year-old throat-cancer patient named Shawn, exposing his neck as he shaves. The ad reads: "Be careful not to cut your stoma.” (A stoma is a breathing opening in the trachea (windpipe) often made during throat cancer surgery.) Another print ad depicts Brandon, a 31-year-old double amputee from North Dakota who was diagnosed at age 18 with Buerger's disease. Nicotine causes narrowing of the blood pressure and increases blood pressure. Individuals with Buerger’s disease are unusually sensitive to nicotine and lose circulation to their legs, resulting in amputation. The ad reads: “Allow extra time in the morning to put on your legs.” A TV ad features Terrie, a 51 year-old former smoker from North Carolina, who portrays her morning routine. She inserts her dentures, puts on her wig, and then places a cover over her stoma. A voiceover says: "Smoking causes immediate damage to your body."

Smoking is related to approximately 443,000 deaths a year in the United States; furthermore, some 8.6 million Americans suffer from a smoking-related disease. The healthcare costs for smokers are approximately $2,000 more per year than for nonsmokers. In recognition of these many insurers (i.e., health insurance and life insurance) charge a higher premium for smokers than non-smokers. Last January, a Utah congressman proposed a bill that would impose a surcharge on smokers who are Medicaid recipients.

Reference: CDC

See Also:
Federal judge blocks graphic cigarette ads
Medicaid smokers' surcharge proposed by Utah Representative