The CDC’s comprehensive national advertising campaign to encourage smokers to quit, a first of its kind, has already made a positive impact. The campaign, Tips From Former Smokers™, began March 19 and will run for at least 12 weeks on television, radio, and billboards, online, and in theaters, magazines, and newspapers nationwide.
The ads have already tripled calls to the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line, including 633 calls in the first week and 667 the second, most of them resulting from TV ads. Nationwide, a record 34,413 called 1-800-QUIT-NOW on April 1. The campaign also filled enrollment in an online study UW-CTRI is leading in conjunction with the federal government to help people quit smoking via Smokefree.gov. Follow-up with participants will continue for about seven months.
The CDC ad campaign depicts the stark realities of living with disease caused by smoking, showing that, while many die from a smoking-related disease, many others are left to live with significant consequences, such lung and throat cancer, heart attack, stroke, Buerger’s disease, and asthma. The campaign features suggestions from former smokers on how to get dressed when you have a stoma (a surgical opening in the neck) or artificial limbs, and what scars from heart surgery look like.
“Although they may be tough to watch, the ads show real people living with real, painful consequences from smoking,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “There is sound evidence that supports the use of these types of hard-hitting images and messages to encourage smokers to quit (and) keep children from ever beginning to smoke.”
That evidence includes an article published in the American Journal of Public Health that showed that graphic ads depicting the consequences of smoking were more likely to spur abstinence than “how-to” ads or ads taking other tacts, even though the graphic ads don’t directly address relapse. Researchers found that the graphic ads invoked a visceral, emotional reaction from viewers that spurred behavior change among smokers and empathy and anger among youth—which encourages prevention from experimenting with cigarettes. The researchers also found that, like raising a tobacco tax, raising the frequency and reach of a TV ad campaign has a direct, proportional impact on abstinence, at least until the point the ads saturate potential viewership. That said, there is a campaign ad about how to quit.