The CDC’s Anti-Smoking Scare Tactics Prove Effective

When gentle persuasion and supportive encouragement fail to get the people you love to quit smoking, try shocking, terrifying, and disgusting them — it worked for the US government.

The first federally funded anti-smoking ad campaign hit the airwaves in the spring of 2012, followed by a second round this past spring. The effort left sugar-coating and consideration for the sqeamish in the dust by featuring graphic images and stories about real ex-smokers who had suffered paralysis, stroke, lung removal, heart attacks and limb amputations.

It seems that as much as people may not want to see such things, they really, really don’t want to experience them. New data released by the Centers for Disease Control show that an estimated 1.6 million Americans tried to quit and at least 100,000 likely succeeded as a direct result of the campaign’s scare tactics. The study also found that during the campaign, the CDC’s national toll-free quit line (1-800-QUIT-NOW) got 132% more calls and its website ( attracted 500,000 more visitors than usual.

And it wasn’t just smokers who were affected by the ads; 35.2% of non-smokers talked to friends or family about the dangers of smoking after the campaign launched, compared to 31.9% who did so before. Not a huge jump, perhaps, but certainly something!

Most impressive is what these numbers may mean for both the individuals who quit smoking, and the US as a whole — the study estimates that successful quitting added up to a half million “quality” life years to the U.S. population. While the value of such quality time spent enjoying one’s loved ones, job, and hobbies cannot be measured, the effect these numbers have on the American healthcare system can be. The CDC says smoking adds $96 billion each year U.S. health care expenses, so a high quit rate can save a huge amount of money.

Considering the whole 2012 campaign cost a humble $54 million dollars (a fraction of what the tobacco industry spends on marketing each year), this effort has managed an impressive bang for its relatively small buck, and may serve as a solid example for other countries trying to reduce tobacco habits on a budget.

In light of the campaign’s effectiveness, a new round of ads is due for release early next year. Maybe next time I try to convince the smokers in my life to quit, I’ll hold off on the “because I love you and I want you around” stuff, and instead lure them over for “movie night” and play ads like this one in a loop…


Recommended articles