Anti-smoking ads are taking on a new campaign as the government is trying to shock smokers into quitting with the sometimes-gruesome stories of people damaged by tobacco products.
The new effort confronts a hard truth: Despite increased tobacco taxes and anti-smoking bans in many public places, the rate hasn’t really budged since 2003, so the government is hoping the new campaign will do the trick.
“When we look back on just a few decades to the days of smoking on airplanes and elevators, it can be easy to focus on how far we’ve come,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Kathleen Sebelius, at a news conference.
But smoking continues to take a devastating toll on the American public, and the new ads are meant to be “a wake-up call” to smokers who may not truly grasp the dangers that still exist, she added.
The billboards and print, radio and TV ads show people whose smoking resulted in heart surgery, a tracheotomy, lost limbs or paralysis. The $54 million campaign is the largest and starkest anti-smoking push by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its first national advertising effort.
The agency is hoping the spots, which begin Monday and will air for at least 12 weeks, will persuade as many as 50,000 Americans to stop smoking.
“This is incredibly important. It’s not every day we release something that will save thousands of lives,” CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in a telephone interview.
That bold prediction is based on earlier research that found aggressive anti-smoking campaigns using hard-hitting images sometimes led to decreases in smoking. After decades of decline, the adult smoking rate has stalled at about 20 percent in recent years.
Advocates say it’s important to jolt a weary public that has been listening to government warnings about the dangers of smoking for nearly 50 years.
“There is an urgent need for this media campaign,” Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement.
One of the print ads features Shawn Wright from Washington state who had a tracheotomy after being diagnosed with head and neck cancer four years ago. The ad shows the 50-year-old shaving, his razor moving down toward a red gaping hole at the base of his neck that he uses to speak and breathe.
An advertising firm, Arnold Worldwide, found Wright and about a dozen others who developed cancer or other health problems after smoking for the ad campaign.