Ex-Smokers Fight for Dignity in CDC's Brutal New Anti-Smoking Ads

Transcendent work from Arnold

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention takes an unfiltered and unflinching approach in "Tips From Former Smokers," an immensely powerful and in some ways transcendent new $54 million multimedia campaign breaking today via ad agency Arnold. Raw, graphic and sometimes heart-wrenching vignettes focus on the daily struggles of ex-smokers suffering from cancer, amputations, tracheotomies, paralysis and more. This is familiar anti-smoking territory, but the campaign consistently rises above the pack. One key is the lack of overt vilification of Big Tobacco. Focusing on the plight of average folks who are paying the price for consuming thousands of cigarettes makes for a stronger indictment of tobacco companies than clichéd portrayals of business-suited, profit-crazed industry drones. The intense, often graphic imagery never feels exploitive. It simply provides an honest look at the private hells some folks face—and overcome—every day. Doing so builds empathy and lets those afflicted, rather than their afflictions, take center stage. Brandon, who lost two limbs to Buerger's Disease, a condition linked to smoking, shares this tip from his morning routine: "Allow extra time to put on your legs." Shawn advises, "Be careful not to cut your stoma," as he deftly avoids his trach-hole while shaving in the shower. Suzy, partially paralyzed after a stroke, informs us that her 23-year-old son helps her bathe and go to the bathroom. Cancer sufferer Terrie nonchalantly puts in her teeth, dons a wig and adjusts her hands-free device as she prepares to face another day. Sure, these are scare tactics, but they're never over the top, and the tales contain elements of empowerment and inner strength as they hammer home the message: "You can quit." Smoking robbed these folks of a measure of their personal dignity; they're reclaiming it tenfold by pressing on with their lives and sharing their stories. I don't think it's blowing smoke to call Terrie, Shawn and the rest heroes, or to rank "Tips" among the year's most memorable advertising, and perhaps among the best-ever work in its category. More spots after the jump.