National Cancer Institute NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
March 20, 2012 • Volume 9 / Number 6

CDC Update

Federal Campaign Seeks to Shrink Smoking Rates Further

Former smoker Terrie Hall Terrie Hall is featured in a new CDC ad campaign called "Tips from Former Smokers." Read more about Terrie’s story online.

A series of "hard-hitting" ads designed to encourage adult smokers to quit began hitting airwaves, billboards, and print publications nationwide yesterday, in the first-ever Federal antismoking campaign. Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the ads feature real people who have suffered serious, often disfiguring health problems caused by smoking, as well as former smokers offering guidance on how to quit.

The campaign, called "Tips from Former Smokers," will run for 3 months and will include ads in Spanish and English. The campaign "tells the real story of how tobacco can change your life," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during a briefing to announce the campaign's launch.

Although great gains have been made in reducing smoking rates, progress has stalled during the last decade. Approximately 20 percent of Americans still smoke.

The campaign builds on an effort launched by President Barack Obama's administration to reverse that trend, Sebelius explained, including provisions in the Affordable Care Act that require coverage of smoking cessation services and the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which greatly expanded the Food and Drug Administration's regulatory authority over tobacco products.

The administration's efforts are intended "to help the 70 percent of smokers who want to quit to make that leap," Sebelius said. The ads direct people to 1-800-QUIT-NOW and www.smokefree.gov.

One of the ads features Terrie Hall from North Carolina, who started smoking when she was 17 and eventually smoked two packs a day. Diagnosed with laryngeal cancer at the age of 40, Hall had to have her voice box removed. In the ad, Hall demonstrates how she gets ready for her day: putting in false teeth, placing a blond wig onto her mostly bald head, and inserting a filter into her stoma, a surgically created opening in her windpipe.

In 2008, NCI analyzed research literature about the impact of media on tobacco use. Results from this detailed analysis found that ads such as those being used in CDC's current campaign effectively reduce smoking.

"The ads only work if they're done right," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said during the briefing. "And the evidence is clear that hard-hitting ads work."

The agency predicts that the campaign will help 50,000 smokers quit. Its cost, $54 million, is equivalent to what the tobacco industry spends in 2 days on marketing its products, Dr. Frieden said.

Many states have been criticized for cutting back on their tobacco control programs, and most states currently spend far less than the CDC recommends. But the new campaign is not meant to replace states' tobacco control efforts, only augment them, Dr. Frieden cautioned.

"I understand that states are under considerable pressure economically. But tobacco control is a good buy," he continued, noting that it can significantly reduce Medicaid costs and other health care spending and improve productivity.

Some people have argued that the current 20 percent smoking rate is "some sort of irreducible minimum," he said. But a number of states that have consistently invested in tobacco control have reduced smoking rates to well below 20 percent, he stressed. "More progress is possible."

Carmen Phillips