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Are anti-smoking commercials effective?

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New anti-smoking advertisements released by the Federal government focus on the terrors of living with diseases caused by smoking, rather than dying from cigarettes. They use a scare-tactic meant to drive gruesome messages home, but are they effective?

Christopher Owens, an exercise physiologist at the Tobacco Cessation Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital, says he hears smokers say this on a regular basis: “You have to die from something so why don’t I continue to smoke, which I enjoy?”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tries to answer that question in its new campaign advertisements using tips from former smokers.

The graphic videos portray how chronic diseases could affect your quality of life and the lives of those you love.

“Bringing up more emotions than what’s going on for them personally and how their spouse or kids are going to have to adapt their lives to take care of them as a result,” said Owens.

Advertising experts say this tactic has been tried before, and it doesn’t work.

Advertising Professor at Syracuse University Ed Russell says, “It doesn’t translate into behavior change, and the reason is the same reason that a lot of us drive too fast. A lot of us do a lot of things that are sort of risky and we know that we shouldn’t be doing them, but somehow we believe that it’s not going to happen to us.”

But, the advertisements definitely seem to stick in people’s minds.

“They’re just too distracting to learn anything from. I remember there’s one where this guy loses his one leg then he keeps smoking and loses his other leg,” said SU student Kevin Belbey.

“It’s just very scary,” said SU student Charles Dickson. “Like, who wants to be that person with a hole in their throat or legs cut off or anything like that.”

This campaign has cost the government $54 million, according to Owens, while the CDC says tobacco industries spend $1 million dollars an hour trying to get people to start and keep smoking. So it’s an uphill battle for anti-smoking campaigns.

According to the CDC, for every one person that dies from smoking, 20 more smokers end up living with a serious chronic disease, from exacerbated diabetes to Buerger’s disease.

The campaign “Tips from Former Smokers” will run from now until June.

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