Public to be hit with graphic anti-smoking ads

(CBS News) Smoking kills 443,000 Americans each year, more than the population of Virginia Beach.

Starting Monday, folks in Virginia Beach and across the country will begin seeing graphic anti-smoking commercials.

The ads are part of a $54 million campaign being launched by the Centers for Disease Control. Dr. Jon LaPook reports that some former smokers are taking part.

Terrie is 51 years old , and a victim of head and neck cancer. Shown putting on a scarf to cover the hole in her throat, she's part of the new public service announcements featuring disturbing images of former smokers.

Roosevelt Smith smoked for 28 years.

"Even when I was having my heart attacks, I still smoked a cigarette, like during the heart attack," Smith said.

CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden admits the ads are graphic and shocking. He says that's exactly the point.

"Advertising works. Hard-hitting ads work, and showing the reality of people's lives and what smoking does to your ability to live out your life as you want to live it, that's maybe the most motivating thing to get a smoker to quit," Frieden said.

Recent history backs him up. In 2006, New York City began a similar media campaign. In addition, for the past decade, there have been higher taxes on cigarettes and restrictions on public smoking. In 10 years, smoking rates dropped 35 percent.

"We now have smoking rates in teenagers just below 8 percent. It's the lowest as far as I know in the country," said Dr. Tom Farley, the New York City health commissioner.

Statistics show that nearly nine out of 10 smokers began by age 18. The government says this ad campaign is especially focused on preventing young people from starting to smoke. Despite their graphic content, Farley said he thinks it's suitable for even young kids.

"I absolutely think it's okay for an 8-year-old to be watching messages that prevent that child from becoming a smoker, even if it's something that the parent and the child find disturbing because that is the point, smoking is disturbing, smoking is killing hundreds of thousands of Americans every year," Farley said.

The head of the CDC says the $54 million cost of the program will be more than made up in a few years by the health care savings from preventing illnesses. Currently cigarette smoking costs Americans nearly $100 billion in health care.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook

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