In March of 2012 the CDC launched a graphic TV ad campaign (TIPS) to encourage smokers to quit. The ads featured a small group of former smokers who had suffered terrible illness and disfigurement as a result of their smoking. The campaign was clearly an end-run around a decision by the Court to block a FDA requirement for the cigarette manufacturers to put similar graphic warnings on cigarette packs.
The government appealed the court decision and earlier this week the US Court of Appeals in DC denied the federal government's request to reconsider their earlier decision blocking the graphic warnings on cigarette packs. Furthermore the DC Appeals Court did not issue a statement explaining their ruling.
In its initial decision blocking the graphic warnings, the court wrote that the FDA had not provided a shred of evidence showing that the warnings will "directly advance" its interest in reducing the number of Americans who smoke. While the evidence from other countries around the world that have required graphic warnings clearly calls this statement by the court into question, the recent ruling seems to ignore huge volume of calls generated to local tobacco quitlines due to the television ad campaign initiated by the CDC in March.
Using similar images with brief stories behind them the CDC TV ad campaign resulted in a doubling to quadrupling of calls from smokers to their state tobacco quitlines asking for help to quit smoking. So perhaps while there might not have been direct evidence in the US at the time of the initial ruling that these images would result in reductions in the number of Americans who smoke, clearly we now have compelling evidence in favor of their effectiveness. In fact, the CDC had to hold back on the ads because state tobacco quit lines were overwhelmed with calls at times that all but exhausted their operating budgets.
But there is a silver lining to the whole story. Perhaps recognizing that the Appeals court would again rule against the government, the CDC Office on Smoking and Health will run TIPS II early in 2013. State tobacco quitlines across the country are preparing for the onslaught of calls from smokers desperate to quit that will be generated by this second ad campaign. The CDC is to be commended for their vision and their commitment to the health and welfare of the American public, especially since the courts have been unwilling to step up to the plate and put the concerns of Americans over the business interests of the tobacco industry.
Ken Wassum has been treating tobacco users for over 19 years. He is past President of The Association for the Treatment of Tobacco Use and Dependence and previously served on its Board of Directors. Join him as he blogs about the effects of the tobacco epidemic, the efforts of cessation advocates, and the work left for us to rid the world of nicotine addiction. Read Ken Wassum's blog posts.