An advertising campaign depicting the graphic realities of smoking is saving lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
An estimated 1.6 million Americans tried to quit and at least 100,000 likely succeeded as a result of the ads, which feature real people living with debilitating and disfiguring effects from smoking, according to a study by the CDC published this week. The number of people who kicked the habit was twice what CDC officials had expected.
“Hard-hitting campaigns like ‘Tips From Former Smokers’ are great investments in public health,” Tim McAfee, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC Office on Smoking and Health, and lead author of the study, said in a news release. “This study shows that we save a year of life for less than $200. That makes it one of the most cost-effective prevention efforts.”
The CDC created the ads after consulting with smokers. The ads showed how real ex-smokers had suffered paralysis, stroke, lung removal, heart attacks and limb amputations. Some subjects were disfigured; others spoke with the aid of voice boxes.
“This is the reality of cigarette smoking,” said Dr. Bruce Hyman, of Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville. “We’ve known for decades that smoking is deadly, but quitting is difficult. This is a testament to the incredible power of the real stories these people told.”
The first round of ads ran from March through May in 2012, followed by a second round in spring 2013. A third round is planned for next year.
The CDC study, published Monday in The Lancet, surveyed a randomly selected, nationally representative group of 3,051 smokers and 2,220 non-smokers before and after the first campaign. About three-quarters recalled seeing at least one of the ads on TV, and smokers reported 12 percent more quit attempts after the campaign. Since research suggests only about 6 percent of quitters will succeed long-term, the study estimates that 100,000 of those who tried will succeed.
McAfee says the 2012 ads cost $54 million, a fraction the $96 billion that smoking adds to the U.S. health care tab each year. The campaign was the first federally-funded anti-smoking media effort. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., according to the CDC.
The CDC has posted the ads online, along with resources for quitting smoking.
“It’s never too late to quit,” Hyman said.