CDC builds on state efforts with 'Former Smokers'

WASHINGTON: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a national three-month anti-smoking effort that will seek to build on the progress of state-based campaigns by featuring the stories of former smokers.

WASHINGTON: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a national three-month anti-smoking effort that will seek to build on the progress of state-based campaigns by featuring the stories of former smokers.

For years, states have used funds from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement reached by the largest tobacco companies and various states in 1998 to fund anti-smoking initiatives. However, research has shown these programs receive less than the recommended airtime they need to be effective, said Tim McAfee, director of the office on smoking and health at CDC.

“We want to help the states underscore these messages,” he said, adding that he believes states are doing all they can to get the anti-tobacco message out. For instance, both Vermont and Arkansas are on the hunt for PR firms to bolster their efforts.

The “Tips from Former Smokers” effort describes the toll that smoking-related illnesses take on smokers and their loved ones. The CDC believes this approach could be more effective than past anti-tobacco campaigns that have emphasized statistics.

“In forums we've held, they told us it's exactly these kinds of stories and ads that helps motivate them and keeps them going,” McAfee said. “The big goal is to get the message across to the American people that smoking doesn't just kill, it also leads to long-term suffering.”

The CDC is collaborating with PlowShare Group on the effort, with GolinHarris working as a subcontractor handling PR support and digital media strategy.

Yet the agency, which has a $54 million budget, recognizes it will face challenges in curbing smoking.

“For perspective, the tobacco industry spends $1 million every hour to promote its products, and in two days they will have spent what we are on this entire campaign,” said Joel London, health communications specialist at the CDC.

To kick off the effort, the CDC held a launch event in Washington on March 15, as well as a satellite media tour. It will also roll out additional media outreach activities over the course of the campaign that will tell the stories of selected former smokers to media outlets, said London.

The CDC also launched a microsite for which it will create content, including interviews with the former smokers featured in the ads. It will also use various social media components, including podcasts, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.

Legacy, an anti-smoking organization that runs the ongoing Truth campaign, praised the initiative.  

“This campaign is a badly needed investment in our nation's future and economic health,” the organization said in a statement. “With this counter-marketing campaign, the federal government's leadership in tobacco control puts tobacco use high on the public health agenda in a truly unprecedented way.”

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