Messages infused with real stories show smokers that quitting is achievable

More than 440,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related illnesses.

More than 440,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related illnesses.

The good news is that smoking rates are as low as they have ever been. The bad news is that nearly one in five US adults still smoke. In 2012, the Tips From Former Smokers campaign, made possible by the Affordable Care Act's prevention and public health fund, was created to drive smoking rates lower.

While the first effort only lasted three months, it had a huge impact. An article released in September in The Lancet showed that 1.6 million smokers - triple the goal of 500,000 - made quit attempts during the 12-week media buy-in 2012. About 100,000 of those will quit smoking for good.

Efforts continued in 2013. Additional media coverage and ads ran from March to June. Initial results of the 2013 campaign indicate the messaging is still working, with calls to 1-800-Quit-Now increasing by 75% during this past spring.

One of the fundamental reasons for the campaign's success has been the robust PR efforts. We designed a message platform based on the real stories, reinforced with simple facts. Messages communicated that living with a smoking-related illness is devastating, quitting is difficult, but possible, and graphic ad campaigns such as Tips save lives and are worthy of investment.

For the 2013 effort, we set up meetings with reporters at major media outlets, including the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time, and USA Today. We introduced reporters to the campaign and our most recognizable participant featured in the initiative, Terrie Hall [a former smoker who succumbed to smoking-related head and neck cancer in September.]

Our media launch in March was a resounding success. The combination of activities resulted in more than 1,570 stories in print, broadcast, and online, reaching an estimated audience of 1.29 billion. In April, the Times published an editorial, "Gruesome Ads That Work" supporting the Tips campaign.

In September, we saw a resurgence in media interest with the release of the 2012 campaign results. Coverage garnered more than 1,520 stories, reaching 1.11 billion people, with an estimated ad value of $1.6 million.

PR played a major role in making the campaign iconic in the eyes of the public.

Tim McAfee is director of the Office on Smoking and Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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