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CDC escalating its war against smoking with graphic ads

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
smoking, ad campaign, quitting, graphic ads, true stories

On March 28, the CDC began its second round of a graphic ad campaign that is designed to get smokers off tobacco

Despite the sequester, our government is still spending money. Its latest endeavor was launched on March 28 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began its second round of a graphic ad campaign that is designed to get smokers off tobacco. The agency noted that last year’s effort convinced tens of thousands of Americans to quit.

The CDC campaign prices out at $48 million and includes TV, radio, online, print, and billboard ads. “Most smokers want to quit. These ads encourage them to try,” noted Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The ads feature sad, sad, real-life stories: Terrie, a North Carolina woman who lost her larynx (voice box); Bill, a diabetic smoker from Michigan who lost his leg; and Aden, a 7-year-old boy from New York, who has asthma attacks from secondhand smoke.

The CDC acknowledges that the cash outflow comes at a time when it is facing a tough budget squeeze; however, officials claim that the ads should more than pay for themselves by reducing future medical costs to society. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the US’ it is responsible for the majority of the nation’s lung cancer deaths and is a major factor in deaths from heart attacks and a host of other illnesses.

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This year’s campaign is patterned after last year’s $54 million campaign, which the government deemed to be a success. It was the CDC’s first and largest national advertising effort; the response was an increase of 200,000 calls to quit lines after the campaign began. CDC officials are of the opinion that it was responsible for encouraging tens of thousands of smokers to quit based on calculations that a certain percentage of callers do actually stop.

Like last year, the current 16-week campaign featured real people who were harmed and disfigured by smoking. Terrie Hall, a 52-year-old throat cancer survivor makes a repeat performance in this year’s campaign. She had her larynx removed about 12 years ago. Last year’s ad displays of photo of her as a youthful high school cheerleader. Then she is seen more recently putting on a wig, inserting false teeth and covering the hole in her neck with a scarf. The CDC notes that it was by far, the campaign’s most popular ad, as judged by YouTube viewings and Web clicks. In a new ad, Hall addresses the camera, speaking with the buzzing sound of her electrolarynx. She advises smokers to make a video of themselves now, reading a children’s book or singing a lullaby. “I wish I had. The only voice my grandson’s ever heard is this one,” her electric voice buzzes.

As part of the sequestration, the CDC is facing a $300 million budget cut; thus, some would question the expenditure on an ant-smoking campaign. However, the funds for the ads does not come from the agency’s regular budge; rather, they come from a special $1 billion public health fund set up years ago through the Affordable Care Act. The fund has set aside more than $80 million for CDC smoking prevention work. Mr. Frieden claims that the ads are extremely cost-effective because the expenditure of about $50 million a year could potentially tens of thousands of lives. He said, “We’re trying to figure out how to have more impact with less resources.” said.

The ads direct people to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669).

Reference: CDC