About 15 years ago, I was a dedicated pack-a-day cigarette smoker with no interest in quitting. And then I met Tom, a friend of a friend who was undergoing treatment for throat cancer. Tom was 40 years old, but you would never know it by looking at him. He looked about 90. For starters, all of his teeth had been removed to operate on his throat. He was frail, ashen, and nauseous from the medicine he was taking. But what I remember most was the look of shame on his face as he described his condition. Shame brought on by the fact that he had brought this illness upon himself. He, too, had been a dedicated pack-a-day smoker right up until the day of his diagnosis. And now, at 40, he had no teeth, no health, and a 10-year-old daughter who he would not see grow up.
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I have not so much as touched a cigarette since that fateful meeting. That haunting image of Tom is still burned into my mind today. And it's exactly this kind of image that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now using to convince others to quit.
And it's working.
According to the CDC, the deliberately-shocking images have already convinced an estimated 1.6 million people to try to quit smoking. And more than 100,000 smokers have credited the ads with giving them the push they needed to finally kick the habit.
One set of images, like the one pictured above, features a woman who lost her voice box to throat cancer; another set features an 18-year-old wearing an oxygen mask in the hospital after suffering an asthma attack caused by secondhand smoke; and still another shows an Army veteran with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who says “I’m running out of time.”
Before this campaign, roughly one-third of smokers said they had tried to quit for at least one day in the previous three months. After the ads were released, that number went up to 35 percent. And even better, 13 percent said they have succeeded.
That's good news for the PR team behind this ad campaign and even better news for the hundreds of thousands of smokers who have finally kicked the habit.