In 2012 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched Tips from Former Smokers. This national tobacco education campaign uses real people who have suffered real health issues due to tobacco telling us about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke. While the tobacco industry fought the Food and Drug Administration against putting graphic health warnings on cigarette packs, the CDC put graphic warnings in our face on television in the form of Tips From Former Smokers and made them familiar to us by introducing them by name.
The original goal of the three month campaign was to have “500,000 quit attempts and 50,000 successful quits,” but that didn’t happen. Instead, an estimated 1.6 millions smokers attempted to quit, and more than 200,000 had quit following the campaign. Of those who had quit, researchers estimated more than 100,000 people would make those quits permanent.
The former smokers had different health problems, but they all had one thing in common: they were now living with disabilities as a result of tobacco. There are so many stories to share but the following really touched our hearts because we lost them too soon.
There was Nathan, a Native American from the Oglala Sioux tribe who never smoked a cigarette, but had permanent lung damage from working in a casino that allowed smoking. The damage to his lungs from secondhand smoke was so serious, he had to leave his job and use oxygen daily. Nathan shared his story with as many people as he could so they wouldn’t have to suffer like he did. He encouraged young people to not start smoking and to quit if they smoked. Nathan died in 2013. He was only 54.
Bill started smoking at 15 to be cool like his buddies. He was diagnosed with diabetes when he was an infant and the smoking only made his diabetes harder to control. Although doctors told him to quit smoking, he didn’t. Kidney failure at 37 put him on dialysis several times a week to filter his blood. Poor circulation lead to an amputation of his leg at 39. That’s when he finally quit smoking. By the time he was 40, he was blind in one eye and had had open-heart surgery. Although he struggled with health problems, he wanted to tell others his story and urge them to stop smoking. Bill died this past year from heart disease at 42.
Of all the stories the CDC featured, none touched the heart more than Terrie Hall. Her ad showed viewers how she got ready in the morning by putting in her dentures, her hands-free voice box, and putting on her wig. Terrie started smoking at 13 to be cool and was up to two packs by the time she was 25. Her sore throat that never seemed to go away was diagnosed as oral cancer at 40. Even as she went through radiation treatments, she continued to smoke. It was when she was diagnosed with throat cancer later that year that she finally quit. Doctors removed her larynx and Terrie had to use an artificial voice box inserted into her throat. Even after her larynx surgery, the cancer returned many times. Terrie wanted to encourage young people never to start smoking and spent time educating them about the dangers of tobacco use. She went on to make several more commercials for the CDC, including one a few days before she passed away from cancer at age 53.
After the success of that first year, more Former Smokers have selflessly shared their stories to educate others about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke. According to the CDC about 70% of smokers what to quit. No matter how long you have smoked, you don’t have to wait until a health scare to make that decision to quit smoking.
You can read more stories of Former Smokers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Click HERE to read additional information about the Tips From Former Smokers campaign results.