THURSDAY, Nov. 8 (HealthDay News) -- A frank and graphic
nationwide media campaign to motivate smokers to quit seems to be
working, say researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
The public health initiative, known as Tips From Former Smokers,
was launched by the CDC in March and ran until mid-June. A dozen or
so ex-smokers offered very personal and often harrowing
testimonials on the devastating health consequences that can result
from years of tobacco use. Participants were featured in multiple
30-second televised public service announcements, radio commercials
and web and print ads.
Now, a post-campaign assessment of its impact on a target
audience of 18- to 54-year-old smokers suggests that the effort did
indeed boost awareness -- and perhaps even changed behavior.
No one is more pleased by, or proud of, such evidence of the
campaign's success than participant and former smoker Terrie
"When they asked me to be a part of this campaign I had no idea of the impact that they would have," Hall said. "I had no idea of the overwhelming and unbelievable experience that I would have with it. I feel like the CDC really did an outstanding job of telling people what it's like if you smoke, and what can happen if you smoke."
For this Lexington, N.C., resident, what happened was
"I've had it 10 times now," Hall said, her voice stressed and labored as a permanent consequence of throat cancer and the laryngectomy surgery she had many years ago. The surgery resulted in the removal of her voice box (larynx), meaning that today she must breath through an opening in her neck and speak with mechanical assistance.
"Everything that's happened to me has come from the fact that I smoked cigarettes," Hall said. "That means that every day I have to put in my teeth, I have to put in a talking device in my neck, I have to wear a wig. That's how I get ready for my day. I've had a lot of radiation, and I'm still going to chemotherapy. It's all taken quite a toll on me."
Putting a face to smoking-related disability -- in a way that
people can relate to -- was the campaign's goal.
"What we decided to do was essentially try to give the American people more of a real feeling of what's behind the statistics," said Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health.
The campaign did just that by "giving a voice and a strong sense
of humanity to people who have been the victims," McAfee said. "Not
helpless, pathetic victims, but people who want their stories told
about what's been happening over the last 50 years, and who don't
want to see this happen to anybody else."
During the campaign, the CDC saw a huge uptick in the percentage
of American smokers who called in to their 1-800-QUIT-NOW
Nearly 158,00 calls came in during the equivalent time frame in
2011. During the 2012 campaign, however, that number skyrocketed to
more than 365,000, amounting to a 132 percent jump in calls.
The national online portal (www.smokefree.gov) saw an even
bigger relative rise in traffic. Roughly 630,000 people visited the
site at some point during the campaign, compared with fewer than
120,000 visitors during the same period in 2011 -- a whopping 428
Hall and the campaign also reached out to 10,000 students to
provide a cautionary tale of what can happen when you light up.
Peer pressure, Hall said, caused her to pick up her first
cigarette at age 17. And addiction turned her into a
two-packs-a-day smoker, a habit she hung on to for 23 years.
"When I was a teenager there was no tobacco education," Hall said. "I wish I had had someone like me come visit my school and show me how tobacco would affect my body. Maybe I would have made a more educated decision about what I would do with cigarettes."
Danny McGoldrick, the Washington, D.C.-based vice president for
research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, praised the CDC
"We've been advocates of this kind of media campaign for years," McGoldrick said. "We know this works."
He added, however, that "it's not enough to run a campaign like
this just 12 weeks a year, when the tobacco companies spend 52
weeks a year making their case to keep smokers smoking."
McAfee, from the CDC, said the agency is planning a second
campaign in 2013 highlighting seven or eight former smokers.
For more on the
Tips From Former Smokers campaign, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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