THURSDAY, March 15, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- A new anti-smoking campaign using graphic images and smokers' horror stories will be launched next week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.
The essence of the campaign is having real smokers tell of the health consequences of their smoking habit, according to the agency. For the next 12 weeks, the ads will appear on television, radio, billboards, online, and in theaters, magazines and newspapers nationwide.
"The courageous individuals who volunteered to be in this campaign have lost lungs, legs, fingers and the ability to speak as a result of smoking," Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in a Thursday press conference. "We hope this campaign will be a wake-up call for potential smokers and nonsmokers."
An anti-smoking advocate praised the new effort.
"The campaign is long overdue," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
"The scientific evidence is clear that highly charged ads depicting the health effects of smoking are among the most cost-effective ways to reduce tobacco use and reduce the number of kids who start to smoke," he said.
The CDC estimates that because of these ads, 500,000 people will try to stop smoking and about 50,000 will succeed.
At the conference, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Friedman said that "ads like these work. Hard-hitting ads convince smokers to quit, and reduce the likelihood that kids will start smoking."
Another organization applauded the new campaign, particularly the ads that focus on heart disease caused by smoking.
"About one-third of smoking-related deaths in the United States are linked to cardiovascular disease," said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. "The stories of two Americans included in this campaign, who suffered from a heart attack and a stroke as a result of smoking, are harrowing examples of how tobacco can ruin an individual's health."
"As the ads emphasized," Brown said, "smoking contributes to one in five strokes, and your chances of having a heart attack increase every time you light up."
A CDC official noted that this campaign has been in the works for months, and is not intended to replace the effort to put graphic images on cigarette packages. That effort was planned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is currently tied up in court in a suit brought by tobacco companies.
"This new campaign will make an enormous difference, but what is needed is the combination of effective mass media with the government-proposed warning labels," Myers said.
According to the CDC, the new ads focus on smoking-related lung and throat cancer, heart attack, stroke, Buerger's disease and asthma.
Buerger's disease is a rare clotting disorder of the blood vessels in the arms and legs.
The campaign has suggestions from former smokers on getting dressed when you have a stoma (a surgically created opening) or artificial limbs, showing scars from heart surgery and reasons why people quit.
One of the people featured in the ads spoke at the press conference. Roosevelt Smith started smoking at 17 and smoked a pack a day for the next 28 years.
"I've had five heart attacks, received two stents and had one open heart surgery where they performed six bypasses," Smith said. "Despite all this, I still continued to smoke. Three years ago, I finally quit."
Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, said the campaign is important, but only a part of an overall effort to get smokers to quit.
The other elements are access to quit programs, smoking cessation medications, tobacco taxes, clean air legislation and advertising.
"We have to have sustained efforts like this if we are going to have an impact on decreasing the number of smokers in this country," Lichtenfeld said. "One of the sad facts is that although we had success a number of years ago in getting people to stop smoking, we have hit a roadblock where 20 percent of Americans still smoke."
One of the major problems is that tobacco companies easily outspend government's efforts to curb smoking with vast sums devoted to promoting their products, Lichtenfeld said.
"The tobacco companies are spending $27 million a day promoting their lethal product, and we can't possibly match those numbers," he said.
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, killing more than 443,000 Americans each year, according to the CDC.
In addition, smoking costs $96 billion in direct medical costs and $97 billion in lost productivity each year. More than 8 million Americans are living with a smoking-related disease, and every day more than 1,000 people under age 18 start smoking, the agency said.
Yet, almost 70 percent of smokers say they want to quit, and half make a serious attempt each year, the CDC noted.
For more on how to quit smoking, visit the SmokeFree.gov.