Anti-smoking campaign makes millions quit

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

wig smoker
This former smoker has to put false teeth in her mouth, a tube in her throat to speak, and a wig on her head every morning, because of cigarettes.

Tobacco companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars promoting their products in places like magazines and billboards. But think about it: have you ever seen a tobacco commercial on TV, or listened to one play on the radio? Probably not. In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the  Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which banned cigarette advertisements on the TV and radio. You see, smoking is the number one killer of preventable deaths, and the government didn’t want support the bad habit. In fact, last year, the US government ran its first anti-smoking campaign through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on national television, and it was super effective.

The campaign, called “Tips From Former Smokers,” wasn’t all bright colors and happy faces of individuals who decided to quit. Actually, the commercials showed insanely graphic images of people who failed to quit, and the different consequences they had to endure. “I wish we could make upbeat, happy ads,” says Tim McAfee, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. Positive commercials don’t encourage smokers to quit, he said. So what’s the point of airing happy-go-lucky ads when they don’t get the job done?

Instead, the CDC chose to air commercials depicting real ex-smokers who suffer either from paralysis, stroke, lung removal, amputations, or heart attack. These graphic images were enough to convince smokers to put out the cigarette. In fact, according to the CDC, more than 1.6 million individuals across the US give credit to the anti-smoking campaign for motivating them to stop. Even though only 6% of smokers actually managed to quit absolutely, the CDC reports that its national toll-free quit line (1-800-QUIT-NOW) got 132% more rings and its website ( attracted half a million more users than usual! “This is probably the biggest campaign that has been done in the world. It wasn’t the longest… but sending it to over 40 million smokers in a country of over 250 million [adults] is fairly unprecedented,” said McAfee.

The first round of ads ran from March 2012 to May 2012, and a second ran last spring. The government is planning to broadcast a third sometime next year.

Images and video courtesy of CDC.