Cautionary tales make anti-smoking ads effective – Commercial Appeal

As I was scrolling through the newspaper online recently, an ad kept blinking on the side of my computer screen. It read: “A Tip from a Former Smoker. After a stroke from smoking, get used to losing your independence.” In the background was a middle-age woman in bed who could not move her left arm. The ad continued. “Smoking causes immediate damage to your body that causes a stroke. For Suzy, it triggered blood clots that caused a stroke.”

Then a button popped up — “Meet Suzy.” I see many ads on the Internet inviting me to meet women I don’t know and don’t care to know. But this ad was different. It was sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people I know and work with in Atlanta.

Health behavior change has taken on a new strategy. Less often, agencies and organizations flood us with statistics and tables. Instead, they tell us stories of people like us whose lives have been changed profoundly. Often, the change is due to a wrong decision made earlier in their lives

Unlike in politics, where there is controversy over whether a decision is right or wrong, unlike in the Supreme Court where a decision can be split by just one vote, in health issues most often it is clear as to what is right or wrong. Smoking is wrong.

What holds us back from the right decision is ourselves and our environment. We smoke because we have become addicted and do not have the willpower to quit. We also smoke because the manufacturers promote cigarettes so they can make money by selling to Suzy and 60 million others like her.

So I clicked on the button to “Meet Suzy.” In a 31-second video, Suzy told me in a monotone voice about how smoking had changed her life and warned me not to smoke.

“Hi, my name is Suzy and I have had a stroke due to my cigarette smoking. And I now need help with feeding, bathing, dressing and even going to the bathroom.” As Suzy speaks, a teenager stands by her bedside and bathes her with a white washcloth. “Sometimes it’s people who work here, and sometime it’s my son, Daniel. My tip to you is — enjoy your independence now.”

Suzy started to smoke when she was a teenager, possibly attracted by the Camel ads. A 1991 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found children to be frequently exposed to the Old Joe (Camel) cartoon. Also, children were better able to identify with the ad and the Camel brand and found the Camel cigarettes more appealing.

Suzy came from a family of smokers. “My mother, father, grandparents — the whole family did it,” she says. During her pregnancy, Suzy briefly quit smoking but then started up again. She became a successful entrepreneur with her husband until her stroke at age 57. Now she is disabled.

As I was replaying the ad and pressing the “Meet Suzy” button, my wife glanced over my shoulder. “Who’s Suzy?” she asked. If I were clicking on statistics, she would have just passed me by — but she wanted to see the ad. It got her attention and the message across. I hope it can do the same for the more than one in five Memphians who smoke on average 14 cigarettes a day.

Source: Commercial Appeal