The federal government's new anti-smoking campaign is hoping real-life anecdotes of smokers now suffering grave consequences from their addiction will help convince smokers to snuff their cigarettes once and for all.
The campaign, the brainchild of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will show graphic images of people whose smoking resulted in heart surgery, a tracheotomy, lost limbs, or paralysis. Tobacco taxes and smoking bans have done little to dissuade smokers; the CDC hopes an aggressive, ugly campaign can do what those obstacles to smoking have not.
After years of decline, the U.S. smoking rate has stalled in recent years at 20 percent.
One of the print ads features Shawn Wright from Washington state who had a tracheotomy after being diagnosed with head and neck cancer four years ago. The ad shows the 50-year-old shaving, his razor moving down toward a red gaping hole at the base of his neck that he uses to speak and breathe.
An advertising firm, Arnold Worldwide, found Wright and about a dozen others who developed cancer or other health problems after smoking for the ads.
Research suggests the $54 million campaign could potentially be effective, as hard-hitting images have been shown to work on some current and would-be smokers.
Graphic ads are meant to create an image so striking that smokers and would-be smokers will think of it whenever they have an urge to buy a pack of cigarettes, said Glenn Leshner, a University of Missouri researcher who has studied the effectiveness of anti-smoking ads.
The images used must stay within certain boundaries, Leshner warned, saying that he has found that some ads have done their job a little too well: creating images so disturbing people look away rather than listen to the message.
For the campaign to work, he says, the images need to scare people into quitting, but not go overboard to where they scare people away from listening.
The campaign may begin as early as Friday, and will consist of billboards, print, radio and TV ads.