Fed's Anti-Smoking Fear Campaign Scares Up Quitters

50,000 dump the habit

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Fear works. The federal government's use of scare tactics in its national ad campaign to stop smoking has prompted a record number of smokers to give up the habit. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 50,000 smokers will end their addiction as a result of the campaign, which ran for 12 weeks between March 19 and June 10.

During the campaign, call volume to 1-800-QUIT-NOW more than doubled to 365,000. Weekly website visits to www.smokefree.gov tripled compared with levels prior to the campaign, adding more than 417,000 unique visitors. Quit attempts numbered 500,000.

"These initial results suggest that the campaign will help even more people quit than we had hoped," said CDC director Thomas Frieden.

The $54 million ad campaign, called Tips From Former Smokers, is the government's first mass-media national anti-smoking campaign in 30 years. Targeting smokers ages 18 to 34, it featured former smokers who were horribly disfigured and scarred from smoking relating their own personal stories. Many of the 14 participants in the campaign were diagnosed with life-altering diseases before reaching the age of 40, altering dramatically how they perform even the most mundane of daily tasks.

In addition to TV, ads were placed on radio, print, out-of-home billboards and bus shelters, cinema and digital.

The campaign mimics the federal government's proposed cigarette warning labels that showed graphic representations of the effects of smoking. A federal district court ruled in March that the labels violated the First Amendment because they went beyond factual and neutral disclosures.

The federal government's push against smoking was required by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Act signed into law by President Obama in June 2009.