Health officials announced on Thursday a graphic antismoking campaign designed to jolt Americans into putting out their cigarettes. The national advertising campaign will include billboards and print, TV, radio and online ads showing Americans whose smoking has caused dire health consequences, including amputation, tracheotomy, paralysis and heart surgery.
The CDC hopes the shocking images will motivate at least 50,000 Americans to quit smoking. Despite increasing taxes on tobacco and more widely adopted smoking bans, the U.S. smoking rate has stalled at about 20% percent in recent years, and the agency thinks the public needs a prod.
“This is incredibly important. It’s not every day we release something that will save thousands of lives,” CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden told the AP.
The 12-week campaign, called “Tips From Former Smokers,” begins Monday and is the first national advertising push by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency is investing $54 million in the effort — a fairly humble sum, relatively speaking. “This is really a David versus Goliath fight. The tobacco industry has spent more than $100 billion on marketing and promotion. They continue to spend more than $10 billion a year. That’s a million dollars every hour,” Frieden told Reuters.
One of the print ads features Shawn Wright, 50, of Washington, who had to undergo a tracheotomy after suffering head and neck cancer. The ad shows Wright shaving around the gaping hole in his neck through which he speaks and breathes.
A TV ad shows Terrie, 51, of North Carolina, who also has a tracheotomy. She gets ready for work in the morning by putting on a wig — having lost most of her hair to head and neck cancer — inserting false teeth and tying on a scarf to hide the tracheotomy. The ad features the tagline, “Smoking causes immediate damage to the body. You can quit,” Reuters reports.
The CDC’s campaign is based on previous studies that have suggested that using graphic images in antismoking campaigns can persuade smokers to quit. “This is absolutely what works. The science is very clear,” Frieden told Reuters.
The advertising blitz comes after a federal judge ruled unconstitutional the Food and Drug Administration’s requirement that tobacco companies use graphic images on warning labels on cigarette packs. But health officials are still embracing such striking imagery for their own means.
The campaign will primarily target smokers aged 18 to 54, but public health experts say they hope the ads will also keep children from picking up the habit. The decline in teen smoking has slowed in recent years according to a recent report by the surgeon general’s office, which calls for youth smoking prevention efforts to be strengthened: more than 80% of adult smokers begin before age 18.
The CDC campaign will also include information on a national quit line and advice for how to quit for good.