Graphic Ads Scaring U.S. Smokers Into Quitting, CDC Says

A missing limb, a hole in the throat, and a bald, toothless woman with no larynx are among the images in an anti-smoking campaign that persuaded 1.6 million people to try to quit cigarettes, U.S. health officials said.

Personal efforts to stop smoking rose 12 percent after the government-created “Tips From Former Smokers” ads initially aired on national cable and local television channels last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today in a report. Of those who attempted to quit the habit, 220,000 remained non-smokers by the end of the first three-month ad run.

The $54 million campaign, which included radio and print ads, was the first federally funded national anti-smoking media effort. Large stop-smoking campaigns on television typically are funded by anti-tobacco groups. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., and the success of the ads highlighting the worst effects has led to plans for another effort next year, said CDC Director Thomas Frieden.

“They show the reality of smoking,” Frieden said in an interview. “They pull back the examination room curtain and show the real story of real Americans going through suffering and disfigurement.”

Almost 44 million people in the U.S. ages 18 and older smoke, the CDC said. The agency estimated 13.6 million attempted to quit before the “Tips From Former Smokers” ads ran. During last year’s ad campaign, calls to 1-800-QUIT-NOW more than doubled by 200,000 additional calls and 500,000 more people than normal visited, the CDC said.

Examples Followed

The agency surveyed 3,051 smokers, three-quarters of whom had seen at least one of the ads, which initially ran from March 2012 to June 2012. Cessation attempts increased to 34.8 percent from 31.1 percent. The CDC extrapolated based on the results to determine the 1.6 million additional quitters. About 100,000 of those people would be sustained quitters, the CDC said.

Frieden said local anti-smoking ad campaigns in New York, California and Massachusetts as well as one in Australia helped the CDC determine which tactics work best to get smokers’ attention. Most of the $54 million in funding came from the 2010 Affordable Care Act, he said.

While the CDC has run anti-smoking public service announcements in the past, major ad buys have been private endeavors such as the American Legacy Foundation’s Truth campaign. The effort, aimed at youth and started in 2000, was funded by the master settlement agreement reached after states sued tobacco companies.

The CDC also surveyed 2,220 nonsmokers, 5.1 percent who recommended smokers quit, an increase from 2.6 percent before the campaign. This means 4.5 million U.S. nonsmokers probably recommended smoking cessation as a result of the ads, according to the survey.

Cigarette smoking is responsible for about 1 of 5 deaths in the U.S., or 440,000 annually, the CDC said.

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