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Telebriefing on Tips from Former Smokers campaign

March 28, 2012 11 am E.T.

TOM SKINNER: Thank you all for joining us today.  As we launch the second phase of our Tips from Former Smokers campaign.  With us today is Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, who's going to provide some opening remarks about the importance of this campaign and then we'll get to your questions that you might have.  So I'd like to turn it over to Dr. Frieden. 

TOM FRIEDEN: Good morning, everyone.  Thanks very much for joining us.  I'm going to just give you a bit of information about the Tips from Former Smokers campaign that just launched this morning.  This is the second time we've done this.  Last year's campaign succeeded our very high expectations for it.  And this year's campaign continues in that vein of showing the realities of smoking.  Basically it takes what we as doctors see day in and day out and draws back the curtain from the examining room and shows the reality that smokers live with day in and day out.  In addition, this year's campaign has more detail about secondhand smoke, and the other impacts that smoking has not just on the smoker, but also on the people around the smoker.  We know, of course, that secondhand smoke causes lung and ear infections, we know it causes low birth weight in babies and sudden infant death syndrome.  It increases heart disease and cancer.  But it also deprives families of loved ones.  And that's one of the themes that you'll see in this year's campaign.  We do these messages, we do these campaigns for one simple reason -- they work.  They save lives, and they save money. 

Smokers tell us that the thing that motivates them most to quit is seeing this type of reality that Americans live with.  The we've now had 20 different Americans tell their stories, their real-life experiences.  I consider them to be heroes.  They are doing something that's not easy, they're talking about very personal things.  They're sharing their stories, and they're doing it because virtually every one of them has said to us, if even one fewer person smokes and doesn't get this condition because of what I'm doing, then it's worth it.

 So we know that tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of death in the US.  Today, more than 1,200 people will be killed by tobacco.  And today and throughout this year, 8 million people are living with disease and disability and disfigurement caused by tobacco.  That's the reality.  In addition, it takes a major financial toll.  It costs our society about $200 billion a year, about half of that in health care costs and the other half in lost productivity.  Each of the ads has a very clear message to quit.  Now, in the US, most people who've ever smoked have already quit. So if you smoke, you can quit. Most people who continue to smoke want to quit.  But because many of them started as kids, in fact, the overwhelming majority started as kids, and are addicted to cigarettes, it's hard to quit.  Ads like this make a big difference.  They increase the likelihood that smokers will quit.  The first year's campaign had a remarkable impact.  It really exceeded our expectations. We saw an increase of more than 200,000 in the number of people who called the quit line, and we know for every one person who goes to the trouble of picking up a phone and getting the number and writing down the number and calling, for every one person who calls the quit line, many more try to quit without quit assistance.  We know more than half a million different people clicked on the website to try to get quit assistance. 

The new TV, print, radio and at-home ads includes health conditions that were not included in last year's campaign. That includes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, asthma in adults and smoking related complications in a person with diabetes.  In terms of COPD, as a doctor, I've taken care of many patients with COPD and it is a terrible disease.  Patients gasp for breath, with every breath they take.  And in terms of diabetes, diabetes now affects about 1 out of every 10 adults in this country.  And smoking rates among people with diabetes are the same as people without diabetes, about 1 in 5 smoke.  That's a big problem.  As a doctor, when we see a patient with diabetes come into our office and find out that they smoke, we groan, because we know that person is at such a high risk of a heart attack, stroke, and many problems.  And Bill, who is featured in that story, told us when we spoke with him privately, we asked him, what finally made you quit?  He said, well, I tried all sorts of things.  But, I didn't quit until they cut off my leg.  And he said, you know, I don't want other people to have to quit in that way.  If they see what happens to me, and they quit, then it makes it all worthwhile.  The ads also feature some groups that were not featured in the first Tips campaign, but that have higher than average smoking rates, such as American Indian and Alaskan natives, where the smoking rate is about twice what it is for others.  Also, we're showing a lot about secondhand smoke.  Hard-hitting campaigns are proven to increase quit attempts and increase the number of people who do quit successfully and for good.  It's been nearly 50 years since the surgeon general's report on smoking and health.  And we've made a lot of progress, but we have a lot more to do, because right now, the rates of smoking in the US have basically stalled our long-term decline.  We have not continued to see a decline in adult smoking.  Even though most people who smoke today weren't quit.  So these ads are making a big difference.  They save lives, they save money, because a smoker costs about $2,000 more than a nonsmoker to care for in the health care system every year, and for every smoker who quits, we save nearly $1,000 every year in reduced health care costs.  So in summary, they're real-life stories that will save lives and save money, that will have a huge health impact by highlighting the real-life stories of people harmed by tobacco and highlighting the fact that secondhand smoke also kills, also disables, also causes tremendous suffering.  So with that, I'll stop, and we'll be able to take some questions. 

TOM SKINNER: Thank you, Dr.  Frieden.  And Brian, I believe we're ready for questions, please. 

OPERATOR: Okay.  At this time if you would like to ask a question, press star 1 on your touchdown phone.  Star 1 to ask a question.  Please hold for our first question.  Our first question comes from David Lewkowict.  Your line is open. 

DAVID LEWKOWICT: Dr.  Frieden, thank you so much for taking the call.  And launching the campaign on the air this morning.  I wanted to ask you why the shift in the style of ads that you produce?  The first round was much more dramatic and these seem to be more personal stories on the family. 

TOM FRIEDEN: I don't think of it so much as a shift, but rather an extension.  We're continuing to run the ads from last year, and those went up March 4th.  And we've already seen them more than doubling in quit line calls, as we saw last year when we did this.  And we have stories like that of Bill, who has had an amputation.  We have a new story from Carrie who talks about what it's like to have to deal with the effects of her throat cancer.  But we're also showing the effects not just on the smoker, but on those around the smoker.  And again, smokers tell us that this is what really makes a difference.  This is what encourages them to quit.  Sometimes if you won't do it for yourself, you will do it for your family.  As a doctor, these are some of the most poignant moments I've had.  I've had patients who were desperate to live long enough to see their child graduate from high school, and college, and weren't able to because of smoking.  So I think it's another reality that we're bringing home to people, that people may experience, but not clearly enough to motivate them to quit.  So I think we're not going in a different direction, we're really extending not just the effects on the smoker, but also the effects on those around them. 

 DAVID LEWKOWICT: Thank you very much.  

TOM SKINNER: Next question, Brian? 

OPERATOR: Deborah Kotz, "Boston Globe," your line is open. 

DEBORAH KOTZ: I'm just curious if there's been any study that says, you said it encourages people to call the quit line, 200,000 people called the quit line.  Do you actual know how many of those were able to successfully quit, and are there studies that suggest that, you know, simply scaring people through these ads will enable them to quit, and quit for good? 

TOM FRIEDEN: there's very strong scientific evidence that ads like this make a big difference in encouraging people to quit, and a larger number of people do quit long term because of the ads.  That's been well documented internationally, as well as nationally.  I will tell you personally that when I was health commissioner in New York City, I wasn't convinced.  So this was a few years ago that international evidence, national evidence wasn't as strong.  We essentially did an experiment where we ran hard-hitting ads particularly targeted to certain demographic groups and we tracked smoking rates in those populations, and they plummeted when we started running the ads. And they had been slack before. So I'm quite -- there's very strong evidence that these ads work to get people to quit.  In terms of quit lines, what the historical evidence shows is that about 20% of people who call a quit line, will quit for good.  In addition, we know that for every one person who calls a quit line, many people try to quit without calling the quit line.  And although their likelihood of succeeding is lower, it's still significant.  And so they account for many quits as well. We did do an evaluation in the first year we had a random sample, a panel of smokers who we surveyed before and one month after the campaign, to see how many tried to quit and how many succeeded at least for that time period.  Those results are currently under review in a scientific publication.  I can only say we're very encouraged by that. 

DEBORAH KOTZ: And also, just a follow-up question to ask about prevention.  You said, you mentioned that the number of adults that are smoking has sort of flat—has sort of evened out.  There aren't that many people who are-- there isn't that continued decrease.  Is this also targeting prevention of smoking, before people start and has there been a decline in continued decline in the number of people starting to smoke in this country? 

TOM FRIEDEN: So first to just say a little bit more about the quit line, and quitting, it does take many people several chances, several tries to quit.  But there's a lot people can do to increase their likelihood of succeeding  in quitting.  Any adult who is not pregnant, and who wants to quit smoking should probably be on medicine to help them quit.  It doubles or triples the likelihood of success.  There are many FDA approved medicines to choose from.  And there are a lot of important tips on what can work, like quitting with a friend.  In terms of initiation, starting smoking in kids, interestingly, what we find is that although we run these ads in a way that we don't run the most graphic ones before 8 pm, or don't run any of them on child TV, we found that there's a high degree of recognition of the ad, and an impact in some of the studies that outside, non-associated -- nonaffiliated researchers -- researchers not affiliated with CDC have done, they found they see them and it makes a big difference.  In jurisdictions that have run ads like this, we've seen a big reduction in smoking rates.  There are several jurisdictions in the US where smoking rates in teenagers are now in the single digits.  And that's really encouraging.  Tobacco control measures work.  What we need to do is to implement them so that we can continue to see that decline in smoking rates.  It's not that people want to keep smoking; it's not that our tools aren't working; it's that we're not applying them.  And this campaign is a great example of an evidence-based campaign that's going to save lives and save money. 

TOM SKINNER: Brian, I don't believe we have any more in cue.  Is that correct?  And if so, I want to encourage reporters to call the CDC press office 404-639-3286 if they have any follow-up questions.  Hopefully they've received our media advisory and know where they can go to actually view the ads.  So if there aren't any more questions, I'll ask Dr.  Frieden to sum up for us, before we conclude our call. 

TOM FRIEDEN: Well, again, thanks very much for joining us.  Tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of death in this country. It costs us 200 billion dollars a year in health care costs. Most smokers want to quit.  These ads work.  They will save lives, they will save money.  They've help smokers quit.  And the people who are featured in them are real heroes for coming forward and showing the impact of that smoking has had on their lives and the lives of their family.  So, we appreciate all of you covering this story.  Last year, there was extensive media coverage, and this encouraged even more people to quit.  The thing that you do in reporting the realities of smoking, not only are accurate and responsible, but they save lives.  So thank you all very much. 

TOM SKINNER: Thank you.  This concludes our call.  

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