Graphic anti-smoking adverts help in quitting

Written by New York Times | New York | Updated: Jul 26 2014, 15:59pm hrs
Smoking ThinkstockAds offering practical advice about how to function with smoking-related ailments seem more effective way to get people to kick the habit.
Telling smokers that their habit shortens life expectancy by at least 10 years might seem like an effective way to get them to quit. But it turns out there is something even scarier: living with disfiguring disease.

Dr Tim McAfee, the director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was overseeing focus groups of smokers to help shape a smoking-cessation advertising campaign in 2011 when this became clear.

Introduced in 2012, the CDC campaign, Tips From Former Smokers, by Arnold Worldwide in Boston, features people who did not quit until smoking had taken a grave toll. The ads ostensibly offer practical advice about how to function with smoking-related ailments, but the real message is to avoid such predicaments by kicking the habit.

A new series of commercials includes one featuring Shawn Wright, a chef who lives in Spokane, Washington, who was 50 at the time it was shot. Wright, who started smoking at around age 14 and had a pack-and-a-half-a-day habit, lost his larynx to throat cancer in his late 40s and now has a dime-size stoma, a hole in his throat.

The commercial opens with a title card, Tips from a former smoker, and Wright in the shower, the water running behind him. Wright, who has a voice prosthesis implanted in his throat and must cover his stoma with a finger to speak, says with a gravelly voice, When you have a hole in your neck, dont face the shower head.

At the close of the spot, as he looks in a mirror, he sticks a tool with a brush on the end into the hole in his neck, saying, Clean out your speech valve twice a day.

Another new commercial features Amanda Brenden, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, who attributes smoking throughout her first pregnancy to her daughters being born two months prematurely and weighing only three pounds.

In the commercial, she demonstrates how she could not hold her newborn daughter, who was confined to a neonatal incubator. As she opens a small oval door on the incubator, tears well in her eyes. My tip to you, she says, is speak into the opening so your baby can hear you better.

The 2012 CDC campaign was the subject of a 2013 article in The Lancet, which credited the ads with motivating 1.6 million smokers to try to quit with more than 1,00,000 of them successfully doing so. The telephone number promoted in the campaign, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, received about 365,000 calls during the 12 weeks that the ads ran in 2012, more than twice the number of calls in the same period of 2011.

To date, the campaign has featured 26 people, including a few nonsmokers who had asthma attacks because of secondhand smoke. Some of the smokers had conditions like Buergers disease, which may result in the amputation of limbs and extremities; oral and lung cancer; and gum disease that resulted in the loss of most or all of their teeth.