The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are unleashing a new ad campaign that graphically depicts the consequences of smoking. The campaign, called "Tips From Former Smokers," is the first of its kind by the federal government. Bob speaks to CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden about the new commercials.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. Starting Monday, you may start to notice some pretty horrifying public service announcements, featuring former smokers suffering from tobacco-related illnesses. The graphic advertisements are part of a new campaign from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The campaign is called “Tips From Former Smokers” and its goal is to encourage Americans to quit smoking by showcasing the dreadful consequences of a smoker’s lifestyle. Dr. Thomas R. Frieden is the Director of the CDC. Dr. Frieden, welcome to On the Media.
DR. THOMAS R. FRIEDEN: It’s great to be with you.
BOB GARFIELD: These ads have been described as “unprecedented” but there’s a certain eerie sense of déjà vu for me. I remember when I was just a kid, many hundreds of years ago, seeing images of people with tracheotomies, for example, in anti-smoking material I saw in school.
DR. THOMAS R. FRIEDEN: This is the first time the federal government is running a national campaign, but these are absolutely tried and tested ads. The kind of ads that we’re running have been proven to work in New York City, California, Massachusetts and in countries around the world. Graphic images that show the reality of the disease and disfigurement and disability that goes with smoking helps smokers quit.
BOB GARFIELD: There’s a truism in the field of life insurance advertising not to focus too much on death because people automatically block the message; they’re in denial and refuse to confront the possibility. The psychology is interesting. There aren’t pictures of funerals and caskets.
DR. THOMAS R. FRIEDEN: Everyone figures they’re gonna die sometime, and death tends not to be as motivating to smokers as realizing that they’re likely to be disabled and unable to do the things they want to do. One of the men in this ad series has had multiple heart attacks and talks about how he never thought he would never be able to play basketball with his son again.
BOB GARFIELD: There’s another guy, a relatively young man who is double amputee.
DR. THOMAS R. FRIEDEN: Yes. For every one person who dies from tobacco, twenty are disabled or disfigured or have a disease that is unpleasant, painful, expensive. Smoking costs the U.S. economy about 200 billion dollars a year. And the ads that we’re running actually amount to less than two days’ of the ad budget of the tobacco industry for an entire year. So we’re being outspent, but because these show the reality, that is, smokers – these are real people telling their real stories – we’re confident that they will encourage about 50,000 Americans to quit smoking.
BOB GARFIELD: There’s one spot in your campaign featuring a woman named Terrie. She’s 51, she’s from North Carolina. And – she’s a mess. Tell me about Terrie.
DR. THOMAS R. FRIEDEN: Terrie describes what it’s like to get ready for the day.
TERRIE HALL: I’m Terrie, and I used to be a smoker. I want to give you some tips about getting ready in the morning.
DR. THOMAS R. FRIEDEN: She describes putting in her teeth, putting on her wig.
TERRIE HALL: Then your wig. And then your hands-free device.
DR. THOMAS R. FRIEDEN: Putting on her machine she uses so that she can speak without touching her trachea.
TERRIE HALL: And now you’re ready for the day.
DR. THOMAS R. FRIEDEN: And then she says, “And now you’re ready for the day.” This shows if you survive the chemotherapy, if you survive the surgery, this is the kind of disability and this is the kind of unpleasantness that you’d have to live with.
BOB GARFIELD: In the category of no good deed goes unpunished, while statistics show that similar campaigns have been effective in getting people to quit, it’s also created a backlash from smokers who complain that the ads are not only alarming and take a psychological toll, but demeaning to them and – humiliating.
DR. THOMAS R. FRIEDEN: We carefully tested these ads with groups of smokers and got their feedback on what would be most effective at encouraging people to become smoke free. Two-thirds of smokers say they want to quit. Most smokers try to quit each year. Most Americans who have ever smoked have already quit.
BOB GARFIELD: Some results were just released suggesting that teen smoking is still a big problem. And yet, teens – at least those 14 and under – have really never been exposed to the kind of cigarette marketing that was so ubiquitous, certainly for most of my life. Due to litigation and settlement, cigarette advertising has essentially disappeared and, and yet, the problem continues. Is this a, a habit that at some point is just beyond the reach of public service messages?
DR. THOMAS R. FRIEDEN: We can make huge progress reducing tobacco use rates. What is takes is effective programs. Despite the sense that there isn’t marketing to kids, in fact, the Surgeon General’s Report that just came out last week concluded that the evidence consistently and coherently points to the intentional marketing of tobacco products to youth as being a cause of young people’s tobacco use. So we still have a long way to go, and it’s possible to make a lot more progress against tobacco.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Dr, Frieden, thank you very much.
DR. THOMAS R. FRIEDEN: Thank you very much. All the best.
BOB GARFIELD: Dr. Thomas R. Frieden is Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.