CDC: Anti-smoking ad campaign shows signs of success

CDC: Anti-smoking ad campaign shows signs of success

CDC says it will make more graphic anti-smoking ads.

According to USA Today, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Thomas Frieden— who initiated the shocking $54 million advertisement campaign depicting people living with diseases brought on by smoking— says that the initial results from the first ever government funded anti-smoking campaign project impacts far beyond his goal.

USA Today says the graphic anti-smoking campaign had a goal of getting 500,000 people to attempt to quit smoking with an ultimate goal of 50,000 long-term quitters. Although the CDC does not have an exact number, the ads more than doubled calls to the national quit line 800-QUIT-NOW. The CDC also says the ad campaign more than tripled traffic to smokefree.gov, a CDC website offering information and tips for people trying to kick the habit, totaling 417,000 new visitors.

In spite of these impressive numbers, USA Today says tobacco companies Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds—who refused to comment—reported solid earnings for the second-quarter. Mr. Frieden told USA Today that the CDC’s advertising budget is a mere pittance in comparison to the $10 billion dollar tobacco marketing campaigns conducted by major cigarette industries.

“We do plan to do another [campaign] next year,” the CDC director said.

Hopefully the ads depicting lung amputations, the effects of stroke and paralysis, and other horrifying consequences of smoking will continue to strike a chord.

“What we heard from people is they wished they’d seen them years ago,” Mr. Frieden said.

When faced with the reality of the consequences, smokers are given a more concrete choice—cigarettes to reduce stress now, or the avoidance of future debilitating diseases.

USA Today uses 42-year-old Christi Leigh Sims, a mother of two from Arlington, Texas who quit smoking cold turkey after 20 years, as an example of this sort of decision-making.

“I wanted to change my life before it was too late,” Ms. Sims said.

“We made the danger accessible and realistic,” remarked Eric Asche from the anti-smoking group Legacy, who USA Today says worked as a consultant for the CDC. “When you personalize a story, it’s powerful.”

Although the intentions of the CDC are to prevent smoking and smoke-related diseases, some believe the intention is to shock and horrify.

Providing a counterpoint to the ad campaign’s success, USA Today quoted an article from a Scripps Howard News Service column by Joel Mathis, which read, “The non-smoking majority is being subjected to an assault on our senses.” The CDC should be cautious, making sure they do not take their message too far in the next round.

Glenn Leshner, a University of Missouri scientist, whom USA Today says has studied the effects of the anti-smoking ads in the lab, says the most effective ads contain a health threat or a disgusting image. However, Mr. Leshner found that ads containing both cause the viewer to recoil, lessening the impact.

However, Mr. Frieden is sticking to his guns, so to speak. “It’s important that everyone understands the impact of smoking,” he said. “This campaign pulled back the curtain.”

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