Commentary

CDC's 2015 'Tips' Campaign Includes Anti E-Cig Spot

The Centers for Disease Control is rolling out a fresh pack of gruesome “Tips from Former Smokers” #CDCTips ads today, including a “Twitter Takeover” (#TipsTakeover) event from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to a Facebook post, that will feature at least one regretful user of e-cigarettes. Unlike tobacco-based nicotine products, e-cigs can be widely advertised and marketed.

“Print and radio ads starting Monday target e-cigarette users who continue to smoke traditional cigarettes,” reports Tripp Mickle in the Wall Street Journal. “They depict an e-cigarette user named Kristy alongside a caption that reads: ‘I started using e-cigarettes but kept smoking. Right up until my lung collapsed.’”

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“This is really an industry, the larger tobacco industry with e-cigarettes, that threatens to get another generation addicted to nicotine,” says Erika Sward, the American Lung Association’s assistant VP for national advocacy, in a piece by Bloomberg’s John Tozzi. “Seventeen percent of American high school seniors reported using e-cigarettes in the last month, compared to 14% who smoked tobacco cigarettes, according to a national survey published by the University of Michigan in December.”

The ALA is pushing for “federal oversight of e-cigarettes in terms of what is in them, how they are being marketed,” as Sward told CBS Moneywatch reporter Jonathan Berr earlier this week.

Tozzi writes that “advocates worry that widespread e-cigarette marketing reaches kids and teenagers, and could reverse decades of public health efforts to portray smoking as uncool.” 

The TV ads are “introducing the glamor and sex appeal to adolescents today that have never been exposed to cigarette advertising on TV,” Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, tells Tozzi.

The same might be said of this 2:28 YouTube video for Blu featuring Jenny McCarthy. “Let’s be honest,” she implores. “There’s nothing sexy about going outside in the rain or freezing your butt off just to take a puff,” she says in a spot that introduced the first electronic cigarette pack that recharges your e-cig. “Blu has always been about giving you freedom,” McCarthy coos.

The video was published by SRITA (Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising), which has an online database of more than 14,500 examples of both cigarette advertising and anti-smoking efforts — “which, on the main, are much less sophisticated than the tobacco industry ads,” says Robert Jackler, M.D., who founded the interdisciplinary research group with his wife, Laurie. They are also less plentiful. In all, there are about 7,000 e-cig efforts in SRITA’s overall collection of more than 30,000 ads, and about 1,100 anti-smoking messages.

The CDC claims that about three in four adult e-cigarette users also smoke cigarettes. “If you only cut down the number of cigarettes you smoke by adding another tobacco product, like e-cigarettes, you still face serious health risks,” it says.

“E-cigarette backers dismissed efforts to malign ‘vaping’ saying the ads will discourage people from giving up smoking or encourage them to do their own research into e-cigarettes,” writes the WSJ’s Mickle. “The anti-side has been spewing crap like this constantly, but we continue to grow,” Jason Healy, president and founder of Lorillard’s Blu tells Mickle. “People know the truth about e-cigarettes.” 

Other “cringeworthy” new spots in the CDC campaign, which launched in 2012, include “Marlene, who's losing her vision, to Julia, who must submit to a colostomy bag,” report Maggie Fox and Erica Edwards for NBC News. 

“Marlene, who isn't fully identified, tells about having to endure regular treatments for macular degeneration. ‘Please don't end up like me. Don't sit in a doctor's chair, have a clamp put on your eye, and have needles stuck in your eyeballs. It's horrible,’” says Marlene, who is 68, Fox and Edwards write. 

The Tips tobacco education campaign “has helped prompt millions of smokers to try to quit …,” according to a CDC news release this morning. “It has also proven to be a ‘best buy’ in public health by costing just $393 to save a year of life.”

“These former smokers are helping save tens of thousands of lives by sharing their powerful stories of how smoking has affected them,” CDC director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., says. “These new real-life ads will help smokers quit, adding years to their lives and life to their years.”

Other ads feature Mark, 47, an Air Force veteran who used cigarettes and smokeless tobacco until he developed rectal cancer at age 42 and Tiffany, 35, whose mother died from lung cancer when Tiffany was 16. She quit smoking when her own daughter turned 16. 

Cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans each year, according to the CDC.

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