Last week, we reported on RACBlog that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was seeking to cut funding for smoking cessation programs in New York State, a move that has groups like the American Cancer Society calling on the state legislature to use revenue from a cigarette tax and a new proposed loose tobacco tax for television commercials and other advertisements that enumerate the health risks of smoking. While the tobacco revenue battle continues in New York, the federal government has taken a remarkable step forward in fighting tobacco use across the country. On Thursday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced a new anti-smoking advertising campaign that will include television, billboard, radio and print advertisements featuring gruesome graphics and stories meant to, as CBS News describes it, “shock people into giving up their smoking habit.”
This campaign is aimed at smokers between the ages of 18 and 54, although the CDC remains hopeful that the campaign will also discourage children from picking up the habit. The ads began airing yesterday and will remain on the air for at least three months. The CDC hopes the campaign will persuade at least 500,000 Americans to give up the habit. Despite numerous smoking bans in public places, outdoor spaces and airplanes, a recent Gallup poll found that the adult smoking rate has fluctuated minimally in the last decade. The CDC is not the first federal agency to use shocking graphics in anti-smoking efforts; last year the FDA approved nine gruesome images that tobacco companies would be required to feature on cigarette cartons. Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that the FDA’s requirement was unconstitutional and blocked the requirement that tobacco companies feature the images. While some organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics are urging the FDA to appeal the ruling, the FDA has not commented on its next step. Tobacco use causes 443,000 deaths in America each year, and worldwide it takes the lives of 5 million people. The CDC’s hope that 500,000 people will quit smoking or attempt to quit as a result of the new campaign is admirable, but the fact remains that 43.5 million Americans are regular smokers – and half a million people kicking the habit still leaves a long way to go.