Study: CDC 'Tips From Former Smokers' Anti-Smoking Campaign Helped More than 200,000 Quit Smoking

Sep 10, 2013, 1:40 PM

file (Image credit: CDC)

A study published in The Lancet yesterday by researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the CDC’s 2012 first-ever tobacco cessation ad campaign, Tips From Former Smokers, can take credit for more than 200,000 U.S. smokers quitting immediately during a three-month ad blitz—with an estimated 100,000 of those former smokers predicted to quit permanently.

The study was done using a web survey with thousands of smokers and non smokers, most of whom had seen or heard the ads that were broadcast on radio, television and the Internet, as well as posted on billboards and in publications. The ads, which included quit-line phone numbers and quit-line web links, featured former smokers, many permanently disabled from the effects of years of smoking. Brandon, 31, one of the former smokers in the campaign, began smoking at 15. At 18, doctors diagnosed Buerger’s disease, a vascular condition that was linked to his tobacco use and resulted in the amputation of both legs and several fingertips.

Terrie, 52, whose video ad has been viewed more than any other CDC video, had her larynx removed after years of smoking caused both oral and throat cancer. Terrie speaks through an artificial voice box. Her “tip” to smokers is to record lullabies and stories for their children now, before they lose their voices to cancer and can no longer read a children’s book with their own voice.

In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Lisha Hancock, 38, said that she started smoking when she was 21 years old and was soon up to as many as two packs a day.

“I tried to quit many times. But it wasn't until I saw Terrie's ad on the Tips for Former Smokers campaign that I was really able to quit for good,” she said. “It broke my heart to see what Terrie was going through, but because of her, I will never smoke again. My son…had a lot to do with it. He was actually very interested in the ads himself. I'm not sure if it was because of her voice or because it was something different than what we normally see on television. But his question for me was why does she sound like that? And then when I replied because she smoked, he asked if mommy would sound like that…I could see myself in her shoes had I continued to smoke.”

file (Image credit: CDC)

The campaign was funded by the Affordable Care Act’s Public Health and Prevention Fund.

“Hard-hitting campaigns like ‘Tips from Former Smokers’ are great investments in public health,” said Tim McAfee, MD, MPH, director of the CDC Office on Smoking and Health, and lead author of the study. “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.”

“The CDC’s campaign was highly successful despite lasting only three months and costing only $54 million—less than 0.7 percent of the $8.8 billion the tobacco industry spends annually to market its deadly and addictive products,” said Susan Liss, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “To win the fight against tobacco, we need more media campaigns like this, both nationally and in the states.”

According to Tobacco-Free Kids, states that have conducted extensive media campaigns as part of their tobacco prevention programs—including California, Florida, New York and Washington—have reduced smoking rates faster and to lower levels than the nation as a whole. Florida recently reported that its high school smoking rate fell to 8.6 percent in 2013, far below most states and the national rate of 15.8 percent, as determined by a 2011 national survey.

“If every state reduced youth smoking to the same low rate as Florida, there would be 1.6 million fewer youth smokers in the United States,” said Liss.

The CDC released a second campaign in 2013 (impact data will be available in the next few months) that included testimonials from former smokers, as well as some new messaging including the effects of secondhand smoke exposure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma in adults and smoking-related complications in people with diabetes. The 2013 campaign also expanded groups represented in the ads, including American Indian/Alaska Native and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender populations.

The 2013 ad series also included a new “Talk With Your Doctor” initiative. The CDC says studies show a doctor’s advice and assistance more than doubles the odds that a smoker will quit successfully. The CDC partnered with five national physician groups—the American Medical Association; the American Academy of Family Physicians; the American Academy of Pediatrics; the American College of Physicians; and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists—to encourage smokers to ask their doctors for help. The campaign also encourages clinicians to ask patients if they smoke and to offer assistance in helping them to quit. Through the partnerships, doctors were offered training on tobacco interventions, and have received information about the campaign through academic journals, newsletters and digital communications.

New ads will be released as part of the Tips From Former Smokers campaign during 2014.

>>Bonus Link: Watch all the CDC Tips From Former Smokers videos.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.