Tough to watchMar 30, 2012 By Steven R. Peck
If you haven't seen them already, you will soon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a new national advertising campaign, the subject of which is cigarette smoking.
These ads probably are the most gruesome and graphic ever produced for a national campaign. They spell out the physical consequences of smoking cigarettes in vivid visual detail, with brutally sarcastic copy accompanying frank, unapologetic imagery.
Last month, we used one of the ads alongside a news story about the planned advertisements. It showed a man at a mirror, carefully shaving a stretched neck complete with a tracheal stoma, the surgically-created hole in his neck the man must breathe through because his mouth and throat have been ruined by smoking.
"Be careful not to cut your stoma," the ad copy reads.
There's another showing a woman lifting the edge of her garment to reveal an enormous scar on the side of her chest.
"After you have a lung removed, take shorter breaths," read the text.
Or: "Allow extra time to put on your legs," alongside a picture of a man with two above-the-knee amputations sitting on the edge of his bed, having lost his legs because of blood vessel damage caused by smoking.
There also are broadcast advertisements of a similar bent.
This is tough stuff, not the sort of advertising the American public is used to seeing. The ads might appear in The Ranger as well. We don't know yet.
But will they work?
Smoking is an addiction, with nicotine the operative substance propelling the awful habit and the burning hydrocarbons in the smoke into our lungs, where it is distributed throughout our bodies.
People have known of the deadly dangers of smoking for almost 50 years. Package labeling has become more and more direct, and there's not a family in Fremont County that hasn't seen the health effects of smoking close up.
Yet people still smoke. For an addict, the power of addiction is a more powerful force than anything else in their lives, including an advertising campaign.
Attention-getting as they are, it's doubtful whether the new, grotesque ads being purchased by the federal government will do much to get many hard-core smokers to kick the habit.
But where the ads might be more effective, and where public health officials strenuously hope they will be, is in discouraging non-smokers from taking up the habit.
Cigarettes are a legal product in this country. From tobacco fields to vending machines, they are a significant part of the national economy, and a powerful political force to boot in some parts of the nation.
But smoking is also a gigantic drag on the economy, a huge, negative player in the ongoing health care debate that was showcased at the U.S. Supreme Court this week.
The battle lines are clear and sharply drawn. Advertising works, but normally its purpose is to establish a compelling habit, not discourage it. This is a campaign worth watching, difficult as that may be.