The biggest, baddest anti-smoking campaign in U.S. history is about to hit your TV, radio, billboards, newspapers and magazines, and I won’t lie: It’s gruesome. Called “Tips From Former Smokers,” the campaign gives an unsparing look at smoking’s ill effects, including graphic photos of former smokers who’ve lost limbs, lungs, and had tracheotomies ultimately caused by cigarettes. Harsh ads like this have often gotten a lot of flak for crossing the line, but judging by the numbers, we need it: Smoking still remains the top cause of preventable disease in the U.S. despite several other methods of health warnings and anti-smoking incentives.
The campaign is the first-ever federal anti-smoking campaign, thought up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And at $54 million, it’s also the most expensive. But the CDC has pointed out that the tobacco industry spends nearly $27 million on marketing daily; their entire campaign budget is worth just two days of tobacco industry marketing. And the budget seems relatively small for the scale of problem this campaign aims to take on: A smoking rate that hasn’t budged since 2003.
According to the LA Times, Secretary of Health and Human Resources Kathleen Sebelius, explained at a news conference:
“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.” … 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 said.
The campaign is planned to run for 12 weeks, and the goal is to convince 50,000 people to quit smoking, significantly reducing the adult smoking rate, which has been stalled at 20% for nearly a decade—and causes approximately 443,000 annual deaths according to federal estimates.
No doubt, plenty will find the graphic nature of these ads terrifying; Even local anti-smoking campaigns have taken heat for being too graphic or exploiting gruesome images and fear tactics. And last year, a federal judge ruled against requiring tobacco companies to post graphic health warnings on cigarette packets, calling the mandate unconstitutional.
But federal estimates say that approximately 443,000 annual deaths are caused by smoking-related disease (and that’s not counting health complications that turned out for the better, like the ones featured in the ads). To me, bringing those numbers down is worth exposing everyone to disturbing images for a few weeks, especially given all the ways the tobacco industry is allowed to manipulate audiences and
Check out some of the other CDC anti-smoking ads, and tell us what you think: