Partnership for Prevention applauds the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today as it launches the national tobacco education campaign, “Tips from Former Smokers,” which depicts the harsh reality faced by real people who are suffering through illnesses caused by smoking and secondhand smoke. In these advertisements, former smokers bravely expose their smoking-related conditions, such as stomas, paralysis from stroke, lung removal, heart attack, and limb amputations. People are aware that smoking kills, but that’s only one part of the story—it can also lead to debilitating health problems at a relatively young age and rob many smokers of their independence. The advertisements underscore the immediate damage that smoking can cause to the body and feature real people who were diagnosed with life-altering diseases, some before they were 40 years old.
The CDC campaign is an important counter to the aggressive tobacco industry marketing efforts that make smoking look glamorous and mature. The tobacco industry spends $1 million every hour - $10.5 billion annually - to market and promote its products. Every two days, the tobacco industry spends approximately what the CDC has budgeted for this entire 12-week campaign. The tobacco industry has been successful in persuading youth to start smoking, as 80% of young smokers smoke one of the three most heavily advertised cigarette brands.
The scientific evidence is clear that one of the best ways to reduce the power of tobacco industry marketing is through aggressive public education campaigns. Released last week, the Surgeon General’s Report, Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults, concluded that adequately funded anti-tobacco media campaigns reduces tobacco use among youth, and the greater the exposure, the less likely youth are to smoke. There is also sound evidence supporting the use of hard-hitting images and messages to encourage smokers to quit and keep children from starting. A systematic review of the literature on the impact of mass media campaigns found that messages that used graphic images and/or testimonials to portray the negative consequences of smoking were found to be most effective at generating increased knowledge and quitting behavior.
The “Tips from Former Smokers” campaign is an important step in reducing the toll that smoking-related illnesses take on real people and their loved ones. Each year in the United States an estimated 443,000 people die due to smoking related illness, and for every person that dies from smoking, another 20 live with smoking-related illness. It is important to listen to the voices of former smokers because they understand the where tobacco addiction can lead. Their stories can save lives by encouraging people to quit smoking and preventing young people from taking up this life-threatening addiction.
Senior Program Officer
Partnership for Prevention