Media Campaign with Real Smokers a Success

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Real smokers sharing in graphic terms what it is like to live with disfiguring or disabling tobacco-related diseases were the featured spokespersons for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) national media campaign to encourage smokers to quit. Based on short-term response, the CDC has deemed the campaign a success. “It far exceeded our expectations,” said Tim McAfee, MD, MPH, Director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, who is quoted in an article published online first in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Calls to the toll-free quit line more than doubled during the 12- week campaign, according to Dr. McAfee, and website hits tripled. “The quit line received 207,519 additional calls in 2012 compared with the same 12-week period in 2011, and the website recorded 510,571 additional unique visitors, suggesting a substantial untapped public interest in information about quitting smoking,” the authors noted.

“Whether the short-term positive response will translate into higher rates of smoking cessation and lower smoking prevalence is the key question.…Good empirical evidence shows that public education campaigns delivered by mass media influence health behaviors, especially tobacco smoking,” the authors pointed out. “Recent reviews find strong evidence that mass media campaigns increase quitting and reduce smoking prevalence when implemented within the context of a comprehensive tobacco control program.”

Federal Investment

The Tips from Former Smokers campaign was “a $54 million national mass media campaign for public education supported by the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund” and “the first federally funded, nationwide mass media effort to encourage smokers to quit,” the authors explained. “The $54 million investment of federal funds is unprecedented in U.S. tobacco control, although it pales in comparison to the $27 million spent daily by the tobacco industry to market its products,” the authors added. While paid advertising ended in June 2012, campaign materials such as videos, podcasts, and links remain accessible on the Tips website (

The authors noted, “the CDC plans to use funds from the Affordable Care Act to run another 3-month campaign during the first quarter of 2013 and hopes to do so in future years.” The CDC also might extend the campaign’s effect by partnering with states and private-sector organizations that could reuse the campaign spots.

The campaign featured graphic images, including a man with bilateral below-knee amputations and three people who talk about daily life with a stoma, as well as tips from former smokers about how they quit. “It is definitely a program to watch—and to recommend to your patients who smoke,” the authors concluded. ■

Rigotti NA, Wakefield M: Ann Intern Med. September 25, 2012 (early release online).




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