U.S. launches graphic anti-smoking ads

Mike Stobbe / The Associated Press /

NEW YORK — Government health officials launched the second round of a graphic ad campaign Thursday that is designed to get smokers off tobacco, saying they believe the last effort convinced tens of thousands to quit.

The ads feature sad, real-life stories: There is Terrie, a North Carolina woman who lost her voice box. Bill, a diabetic smoker from Michigan who lost his leg. And Aden, a 7-year-old boy from New York, who has asthma attacks from secondhand smoke.

“Most smokers want to quit. These ads encourage them to try,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC campaign cost $48 million and includes TV, radio and online spots as well as print ads and billboards.

The spending comes as the agency is facing a tough budget squeeze, but officials say the ads should more than pay for themselves by averting future medical costs to society. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States.

Last year’s similar $54 million campaign was the agency’s first and largest national advertising effort. The government deemed it a success: That campaign triggered an increase of 200,000 calls to quit lines. The CDC believes that likely prompted tens of thousands of smokers to quit based on calculations that a certain percentage of callers do actually stop.

Like last year, the current 16-week campaign spotlights real people who were hurt and disfigured by smoking. Terrie Hall, a 52-year-old throat cancer survivor makes a repeat performance. She had her voice box removed about a dozen years ago.

In last year’s ad there’s a photo of her as a youthful high school cheerleader. Then she is seen more recently putting on a wig, inserting false teeth and covering the hole in her neck with a scarf. It was, by far, the campaign’s most popular spot, as judged by YouTube viewings and Web clicks.

In a new ad, Hall addresses the camera, speaking with the buzzing sound of her electrolarynx. She advises smokers to make a video of themselves now, reading a children’s book or singing a lullaby. “I wish I had. The only voice my grandson’s ever heard is this one,” her electric voice growls.