Graphic anti-smoking ads ignite mixed response
Published: Monday, April 15, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 00:04
In the latest anti-smoking campaign from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, titled “Tips from Former Smokers,” a 51-year-old North Carolina resident named Terrie is urging people not to smoke. She demonstrates how to cover her voice box and shows how she gets ready in the morning, which includes putting on her wig.
Terrie was diagnosed with lung and throat cancer 11 years ago, and has since had surgery to remove her larynx, forcing her to talk with the assistance of an artificial voice box. “My advice to somebody who doesn’t smoke, don’t ever start,” Terrie says. “My advice to those who do smoke, please quit, or at least try.”
Terrie is one of many individuals shown in the campaign, which is being aired on television commercials, billboards, radio stations and numerous social media outlets for the duration of 12 weeks, according to the CDC’s website.
“Tips from Former Smokers” serves as the CDC’s second campaign of this nature, and the organization states on its website that the previous campaign prompted double the amount of calls to the help line 1-800-QUIT-NOW. Despite this, it has been widely debated as to whether or not the campaigns feature content that is overly graphic. Each former smoker interviewed in the campaign has visible ailments caused by years of smoking. Terrie has visibly suffered from cancer while other individuals such as Bill, a 40-year-old Michigan resident who began smoking at the age of 15, says smoking worsened his diabetes and led to blindness in one of his yes and the amputation of his leg. In the videos, both Terrie and Bill express remorse for smoking because of the affect it has had on their families.
Nursing professor Allen Prettyman, who has a focus in health promotion and prevention, says it is acceptable for the CDC to advertise the graphic campaigns, because they are more likely to convey the message to viewers that the repercussions of smoking are often painful and undesirable.
“It gets people’s attentions and the important thing for people to understand is that there are ramifications to making that choice and it’s not pretty,” Prettyman says. “I think they are getting their point across, and however they get it across it is a matter of trying to save lives.”
Freshman Rachael Cooper says providing viewers with realistic accounts of the physical effects of smoking can cause will remind them that they are not invincible and that just like the subjects of the campaign, these health issues could happen to them as well if they choose to smoke.
Although she predicts smokers will be disturbed by the explicit images and stories shown in the campaign, Cooper says she thinks it might not be enough to convince them to quit.
“I’m not sure that it would motivate them for the right reasons necessarily,” Cooper says. “I think it’s used as more of a scare tactic, I think it would have to hit home for their children and their families to get on them to stop smoking.”
A new addition to the campaign that was not featured in the CDC’s last “Tips from Former Smokers” advertisements is the focus on how smoking can cause further health complications for people who have a pre-existing condition, such as diabetes, heart problems and asthma. The campaign also provides accounts from individuals who were adversely affected by secondhand smoke.
Prettyman says the campaign’s emphasis on the detriments of smoking on people with previously diagnosed health conditions is another beneficial aspect viewers need to be informed about.
“It’s not just smoking and lungs,” he says. “Smoking makes the other chronic problems much worse, and I think that’s a great take home message.” If the campaign simply promotes increased conversation amongst smokers and their doctors, it will heighten their awareness and allow them to become more informed on the serious dangers of smoking, Prettyman says. Regardless of the conversation, he says he thinks there will be some sort of effect on smokers due to the campaign.
Freshman Anne Pugliese says it is likely that the disturbing images and saddening stories shown in the campaign will keep individuals from starting to smoke if they do not already. She also says that it could serve as a positive influence on youth who might be given the impression that smoking is a socially “cool” activity to try.
“A lot of times channels like MTV will give them an unrealistic picture and they will emulate what they see because they think smoking is cool,” Pugliese says.
Although Pugliese says some television channels may feature content that encourages smoking, she says it is not appropriate for the campaign to be shown on channels that might have a younger audience such as Nickelodean. While the CDC is promoting its campaign on various networks, the organization has said it is not airing the campaign on certain channels, like Disney, where the content might be too extreme for younger viewers.
Sophomore Kati McLaughlin says she thinks the advertisements of people sharing their emotional and painful experiences due to smoking will disturb smokers, but she is unsure of whether it will inspire them to permanently quit.
Despite the censorship of the campaign on certain networks, McLaughlin says that it is important to show the realistic commercials because they are more likely to impact individuals who are addicted to smoking. Addicted individuals need a strong message to encourage them to change their habits, McLaughlin says.
“I think when you make it personal it definitely makes it easier for people to relate to—people know things aren’t healthy but when they see what it does it makes it a bigger deal,” McLaughlin says.
Prettyman says regardless of whether the campaign prompts a smoker to quit, or informs the general public of the adversity the habit could cause them, he believes it is important that the campaign heighten viewers’ awareness of the negative affects of smoking and gives them the tools to learn about it further.