CDC: More than 200,000 in U.S. quit smoking after graphic ads

WASHINGTON – An estimated 200,000 Americans quit smoking in the wake of a federally funded ad campaign that graphically showed the consequences of tobacco use, according to a study released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC said an estimated 1.6 million U.S. smokers attempted to quit this past year after encountering the three-month “Tips From Former Smokers” campaign, which was funded by the Affordable Care Act. Of those, 200,000 quit shortly after the campaign. More than 100,000 are expected to stop permanently.

“The TIPS campaign surpassed our expectations,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden told reporters in a call Monday, saying the results represented more than a doubling of initial goals. “That’s a tremendous success story. These are Americans that will live longer lives, healthier lives with lower health-care costs.”

The $54 million ad series, which ended in June 2012, featured stark images and emotional pleas from ex-smokers suffering from a variety of ailments, including amputated limbs, oral and throat cancer, paralysis, lung damage, strokes, and heart attacks.

One of the most haunting ads featured a 52-year-old North Carolina woman named Terrie Hall, who had to have her larynx removed after being diagnosed with throat cancer. She now speaks with the help of an artificial voice box.

“The only voice my grandson’s ever heard is this one,” she says in a robot-like voice in one commercial.

The CDC study, published in the medical journal the Lancet, surveyed a randomly selected group of about 3,000 smokers and 2,200 nonsmokers before and after the initial ad campaign. Almost 80 percent of smokers and nearly 75 percent of nonsmokers recalled seeing at least one of the ads during the campaign, the CDC found.

The agency also said that calls to its toll-free quit line (800-QUIT-NOW) more than doubled during the ad campaign, and visits to its website were five times greater than during the same three-month period a year earlier.

Officials said the campaign saved an estimated 300,000 years of life that otherwise would have been lost to smoking-related disease, which remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 1,200 Americans each day.

“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,” Tim McAfee, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health and lead author of the study, said in a statement Monday.

A second batch of TIPS ads aired in early 2013, and the agency plans to air another round in 2014.

“Bottom line: Ads against tobacco work,” Frieden said. “This campaign saved lives… . It also saves money.”


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