Transcript for CDC press briefing: CDC launches powerful new ads in “Tips From Former Smokers” campaign

Press Briefing Transcript

Thursday, March 26, 2015 at 12:35 E.T.

Please Note:This transcript is not edited and may contain errors.

OPERATOR: Welcome and thank you for standing by. At this time all participants are in listen-only mode. During the question and answer session of today’s conference, you may press star 1 to ask a question. Today’s conference is being recorded and Katherine Lyon Daniel will be the host for today’s call and please stand by.

KATHERINE LYON DANIEL: Good afternoon. I’m Katherine Lyon Daniel, Associate Director for Communications here at CDC. Welcome to CDC’s media briefing on the fourth year of the Tips from Former Smokers campaign, welcome our guests in the room and also those joining by webcast or satellite. Today’s briefing will preview this year’s new ads featuring new health conditions. We’ll hear from four speakers, followed by questions and answers. Our first speaker will be Dr. Tom Frieden, an MD and Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Frieden has made evidence-based tobacco control a priority throughout his career. Next we will hear from Dr. Tim McAfee, Senior Medical Officer for CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. Dr. McAfee has provided leadership and direction for the Tips campaign since its successful launch in 2012. We will also hear remarks from two former smokers who shared their powerful stories in new ads this year. Thank you. Dr. Frieden?

TOM FRIEDEN: Thanks very much and I first want to by recognizing, welcoming and thank each of the brave men and women who have participated in this year’s campaign, you and your families have step forward to protect other and your stories and your willingness to share those stories, may well save more lives than most doctors can save in their whole career. I want to thank Julia, who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and Marlene, who suffers from vision loss, for their courage to share their story with us this afternoon. We are also delighted to be joined by additional participants from this year’s campaign. Mark, who also developed colorectal cancer, and Kristy, who tried e-cigarettes to cut back on cigarettes but didn’t quit smoking and has early COPD and a collapsed lung. All of you, are true heroes. Thank you. These ads, bottom line, these ads will saves lives and will also save money. The Americans who stepped forward to share their stories are heroes and their stories will motivate thousands and thousands of people to quit smoking and quit smoking for good. Tobacco remains public health enemy number one in this country. More than a thousand Americans per day are killed by tobacco, nearly a half a million every year. There are 16 million Americans who are living with diseases caused by tobacco. Not only do people who smoke die younger but they suffer from difficult, deadly, disfiguring, and disabling diseases. And those diseases cost our society, cost our healthcare systems but most of all cost the individual and their families far too much in suffering that can be entirely prevented. The tobacco industry spend more than 8 billion dollars a year on marketing and promotion. TIPS was the first national campaign against tobacco and now with this year’s launch we are taking it to the next level and sharing more stories and to help more Americans quit. But that 8 billion dollar spend, basically out numbers us about 140 to 1 in terms in what we can spend in public health or put in another way, if we think about starting on January 1 by the end of the first week, they have spent twice what we can spend in a whole year, but we have something on our side, we have truth. We have people like Julia and Marlene and others who are sharing their stories and with that, we can help the smokers who want to quit, because most Americans who smoke today, began smoking as kids. Most of them want to quit, and most of them try to quit each year, and ads like these, help people quit, they motivate them to quit. We know from the past years of TIPS, that these ads have saved tens of thousands of lives and prevented hundreds and millions in expenses in healthcare cost. Just to give you some numbers, our analysis from the first year of the campaign shows that whereas, we usually say a good benchmark, for what is called cost-effectiveness that it cost less than 50 thousand dollars, to prevent year of life lost, well the TIPS 2012 campaign cost 393 dollars to prevent a year of life lost, we often say that a benchmark where a life is saved is a 10 million dollars we spent that to save a life, well the cost was about 2,000 dollars to save a life, so these ads and the money that goes into running them on the air and the courage that goes into telling the stories save lives. But we have a lot of threats there are still more than 42 million Americans adults who smoke, and we are seeing new threats, one of those threats is the increase in use of e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes are a tobacco product, and if e-cigarettes helps an individual to quit smoking for good, that’s a good thing, but there are a lot of misconceptions about e-cigarettes, Many children are using e-cigarettes and getting hook on nicotine and that’s an addiction that can stay with you for life, and many adults who think they are going to get off cigarettes by using e-cigarettes are continuing to smoke when perhaps they could’ve quit if they hadn’t taken up the e-cigarettes. If that happens, it does more harm than good. In fact, in one study, 76% of all people who were using e-cigarettes were also smoking. So it wasn’t leading people to quit, it was in some cases enabling people to keep smoking because they were using e-cigarettes, when otherwise, they would have cut down and quit entirely. If you want to quit, there are proven ways to quit, FDA approved medication can triple the likelihood that if you try to quit, you will succeed.  Since most Americans want to quit, we want to support those individuals with ads like these and things like the quit line, 1-800-QUIT-NOW or our website  In the future, because of these heroes, we think there will be additional Americans quitting and living smoke-free lives.  And so I thank them for their courage and thank them for what they’re doing.  Dr. McAfee? 

TIM MCAFEE: Thank you very much, Dr.  Frieden and thank you also for the support that you’ve provided us over the last four years that’s helped enable us to present the tips campaign to the American people.  It’s my honor to introduce these ads. In 1964, the first surgeon general’s report found that smoking causes lung cancer, remarkably. The surgeon general’s 50th anniversary report that was released, the 50th anniversary report, found that smoking and second-hand smoke exposure are a cause of additional diseases and conditions, 50 years later. The landscape of tobacco products and marketing also continues to rapidly change, presenting new challenges and opportunities for smokers who want to quit and for those of us in public health who want them to be successful. So our 2015 ads highlight some of these new findings and challenges. For example, first, we now know that smoking is the cause of colorectal cancer, which is the second most deadly cancer affecting both men and women. This is rectal cancer month and we want to emphasize both the importance of talking to your doctor about screening but also of quitting smoking.  I’m honored to introduce two brave survivors of colorectal cancer who share their stories in tips ads this year, Julia and mark. First we’re going to see Julia’s ad. 

[Julia’s Ad]

TIM MCAFEE: I’m going to give you a little more background about Julia.  She’s from Mississippi, as the ad said.  She started smoking in her early 20s when she moved to New York and was a pack-a-day smoker who had tried to quit over the years without success. When she was 49, Julia had stomach pain and bloating that she just couldn’t ignore. A colonoscopy pound a tumor that completely blocked her intestine and she needed months of therapy to treat the cancer.  She also needed the bag which was taped to a hole in her abdomen.  With support from her family she has succeeded in quitting smoking.  She said her singing voice improved and at my request Julia sang for a group of us just a few moments before we began this press conference and her singing voice is truly awesome and inspiring and this is another one of those wonderful gifts that we get when people quit smoking. They retain or improve the quality of a singing voice.  Quitting, more importantly, lowers the risk that her cancer could return.  So next I’m going to tell you about Mark from California, who is also with us today. Mark started smoking as a teenager to fit in with friends. At 19, he joined the U.S.  Air Force where he continued to smoke and use cigarettes and smokeless tobacco through two tours of duty in the Persian Gulf.  Mark smoked until 2009 when he developed rectal cancer at the age of 42. He was no longer in harm’s way because of his active military duty, but he faced the fight of his life against cancer that is linked to smoking.  The first two weeks of giving up cigarettes and smokeless tobacco were very hard for mark, but he says that thinking of himself as a nonsmoker helped him immensely, and in a short time his cravings went away.  He’s now been cancer-free for five years.  Congratulations, mark.  We’ll now play mark’s ad which he did with Julia. 

[Mark and Julia’s ad]

TIM MCAFEE: Next I’m going to tell you a little bit about Marlene’s story which highlights the new surgeon general’s finding that smoking causes age-related macular degeneration which is the leading cause of blindness in Americans over the age of 65. Marlene is from New York, started smoking at the age of 15 after watching smoking portrayed favorably in a movie, a very important concern because this is still a problem 50 years later in the united states. By age 56 she started to lose her vision.  Marlene had trouble reading, mistook her finger for a carrot in the kitchen while cutting vegetables, and suffered falls. Marlene was then diagnosed with macular degeneration which we now know is a risk for all smokers. To date she’s gotten more than 100 injections in each eye and will need more shots each month, or she will continue to go blind. Macular degeneration eventually robs you of your central vision. Marlene has now quit smoking for good, but her macular degeneration has changed her life forever. Now I’d like to show you Marlene’s ad. 

[Marlene’s Ad]

TIM MCAFEE: On radio and print ads, this year we’re going to introduce you to Christie who’s a trucker from Tennessee.  By age 33, Christie had already been a heavy smoker for 20 years.  She was determined to quit smoking to protect her family and also get rid of her smoker’s cough. She decided to try e-cigarettes. Although she cut down on regular cigarettes, Christie did not quit smoking completely.  Eventually her right lung collapsed, and after that she never smoked a cigarette. Christie’s doctor also found early COPD which makes it harder to breathe.  We made this ad for the three out of four adult e-cigarette users who, like Christie, also smoke cigarettes.  Smokers today are hearing a lot of aggressive marketing messages from e-cigarette companies, but the bottom line message in our tips ad is simple, quit smoking completely.  Even a few cigarettes per day is dangerous to your health. The 2010 surgeon general’s report found that fewer cigarettes per day does not reduce cardiovascular disease, and that the only way to stop the progression of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is to quit smoking completely.  We will also feature Tiffany in a public service announcement. She’s from Louisiana and joined the tips campaign in 2013. When she was 16, her mother died from lung cancer.  When her own daughter turned 16, tiffany quit smoking for good.  Her ad highlights the way that continued smoking affects your loved ones. Not just yourself. And now quitting can improve the lives of those around you, not just your own life. We’ll now show you Tiffany’s public service announcement. 

[Tiffany’s Ad]

TIM MCAFEE: That’s our new suite of ads. Since 2012, 30 participants have shared their stories in over 70 ads.  They generated more than half a million calls to 1-800-quit now, millions of visitors to and inspired hundreds of thousands to quit smoking for good.  This January we lost one of these heroes to a disease caused by smoking, Rose Hernandez from Texas.  After multiple surgeries, including one that resulted in a painful chest tube, rose’s lung cancer spread to her brain.  Rose was a powerful advocate for quitting smoking until she died at just 60 years of age.  So we honor rose and the other three beloved tips participants who have died, including Terry Hall, Nathan Moose, and Bill Busy. There would be no tips for smoker’s campaign without these brave men and women.  They together with their families have invited us into their homes and doctors’ offices.  They have allowed our camera to capture intimate and painful moments in their lives, and conjured memories of difficult times because they know that by doing so, they are helping to encourage someone out there to quit.  To quit because of watching their ad rather than having to directly experience the suffering that the ad participants went through.  Julia, Mark, Marlene and Christie and their families members who have traveled a long distance to join us today, thank  you so much on behalf of the office on smoking and the CDC, our heartfelt thanks for your contribution. I’d now like to welcome Julia to the podium who will be followed by Marlene. 

JULIA:  Thank you, Dr. McAfee.  I’m honored to be here today representing the tips from former smoker’s campaign. I started smoking in my early 20s, and like many smokers, had no idea how addictive and harmful they could be. My occasional cigarette turned into a pack-a-day addiction.  Which turned into 25 years of smoking. I tried to quit many times, but it was extremely difficult.  With the help of my family and my faith, I was able to quit smoking successfully. Unfortunately, I didn’t walk away from smoking without consequences.  At age 49, I was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. The battle I fought with cancer is something that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It wasn’t just about the physical pain and suffering i endured with surgery and chemotherapy. It was also the fear and sadness I saw in my family.  The hurt, almost more than the cancer itself. My family supported me, cared for me when I couldn’t care for myself.  I am blessed to be able to say i am cancer-free and a successful quitter. Quitting smoking is the best thing I could have done for my family, my health, my future. If you smoke, please protect the people you love and find a path to quitting. Thank you. 

MARLENE:  Thank you, Julia. Thank you, Dr. McAfee, thank you Dr. Frieden, and thank you, guests.  I was 15 years old when i first had my first cigarette. I took one from my mother’s pack as my mother was a smoker.  I asked a neighbor across the street from me to give me a lesson on how to inhale.  Within a year, i was addicted and I also taught my friend how to smoke.  For the next 45 years I continued to smoke. When I started smoking as a teenager, I didn’t know about the consequences of smoking. It never occurred to me that smoking would threaten my vision until it did. About 11 years ago there were small changes, noticeable changes in my vision.  Lines wouldn’t be straight.  Sentences on billboards looked unfinished. Over time, it got progressively worse and dangerous. After many visits to eye specialists, I was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease that gradually takes away your central vision.  There is no cure, there is no treatment — I’m sorry. There is no cure. There is only treatment to slow the progression of this disease. Though I am grateful for the treatment, it is difficult and uncomfortable. I’ve had over 100 injections directly into each of my eyes. If I knew at 15 or at any point in my smoking years, I would have tried to quit smoking. That smoking was going — I’m so sorry — rob me of my vision, I would never have taken that first puff. The idea of not being able to see people I love, the world around me, made me terrified and heartbroken.  By participating in this campaign, my hope is that you will stop smoking, get the courage to quit, and don’t end up like me in a chair getting injections in your eyes.

TOM FRIEDEN: Thanks so much to both of you.  I think your stories remind us not only of how important this quit smoking, not only of the damage that smoking can cause, they show your courage, they show your humanity, and they also remind us that smoking doesn’t just affect the individual who smokes.  It affects everyone around them, and quitting also helps everyone around that individual as well.  We’ll now open up for questions. I think we have questions on the phone. We’ll go to the first question. 

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  If you would like to ask a question, press star one, and record your name clearly.  The first question is from Mike Stobbe with Associated Press.  Go ahead with your question. 

MIKE STOBBE:  Hi.  Thank you for taking my question.  I was curious about the ad involving Christie.  Did you say — how long did she use e-cigarettes, and are you saying, Dr. McAfee, it said the bottom line message is quit smoking completely, but by choosing to talk about e-cigarettes but not other quitting methods that maybe some other participants in the campaign had used and failed at, you seem to also be sending a message of discouraging e-cigarette use specifically. Is that accurate? 

TOM FRIEDEN:  I’ll ask Dr. McAfee to add further.  Let me start by saying, if you want to quit smoking, there are FDA-approved medications which can double or triple the likelihood that you will succeed. If you think that using e-cigarettes will result in your being able to stop smoking, be aware that that is unproven.  What we’re seeing is that three out of four people using e-cigarettes are still smoking. So we know that if e-cigarettes end up getting kids hooked or getting people who might have otherwise quit to keep smoking regular cigarettes, then they’ll have definitely done more harm than good. If an individual is benefitted by e-cigarettes, if they’ve tried other things and couldn’t quit and with e-cigarettes, they’ve quit, that’s good for that individual. But overall what we’re seeing is very concerning and has the potential to actually increase harm from tobacco because of increased nicotine addiction and increased smoking.  Dr. McAfee? 

TIM MCAFEE:  You’ve covered most of the points.  I would just add, mike, that we felt that we owed it to the American people and to smokers who are wondering about the positive — the potential benefits or disadvantages of e-cigarettes that we had to say something.  As i noted briefly, the American people are being inundated with messaging relating to e-cigarettes for the first time in 40 years we’re seeing over $100 million was spent last year relating to e-cigarettes.  Regardless of how this ultimately ends up coming, if they end up helping, hurting, et cetera, we think that our role is to particularly help minimize harm and potentially maximize benefits, but particularly in the harm front because the tips campaign is focused on adults and on real smokers with real stories.  We have not addressed the other major concern certainly the CDC has which is the dramatic and continued increase in e-cigarette use among adolescents which we frankly think is just totally a bad idea.  We think any use of a tobacco product, any nicotine-containing product in adolescence needs to be discouraged, both in messaging and also through the policies by parents, by what cities and municipalities and ultimately the government do.  We have to work together on this.  But for adults and adult smokers, the concern that we have is that with all the positive messaging that’s happening, particularly through the air waves, we can lose sight of this very sort of unfortunate truth, which was a mainstay within the surgeon general’s 2010 report, which is that cutting down on cigarettes is not a great strategy unless it leads fairly rapidly to quitting cigarettes completely, particularly because of the impact on heart disease and progression of COPD, but even with the other cancers.  So we’re concerned that many smokers may be seduced, as they were seduced over the last 50 years, first by the introduction — the cynical introduction of filters in the 50s and 60s that bamboozled the people into thinking that filters were making them safer and then the introduction of mild cigarettes which was essentially a fraud committed by the tobacco industry based on the findings of the department — judge Kessler in the findings with the tobacco industry. And we’re not saying that that is the intent or what’s happening with e-cigarette marketing, but we run a danger of a secondary effect even if e-cigarettes prove to be beneficial around people that use them to quit or switch if a large fraction which is currently what is happening of cigarette smokers use these cigarettes in a manner in which they also continue on and dual using in the hopes that they are using e-cigarettes to cut down on smoking, if they do that with the hope that that will improve their health and that they don’t need to quit just like they didn’t need to quit with filters and with light and mild, that is a disaster.  It’s a disaster for that individual and for public health. So that’s the reason that we decided that we had to say something.  We tried very careful to stay focused on this issue of dual use. We’re not making a larger statement about the potential roles for e-cigarettes. 

MIKE STOBBE: What about the question about how long did Christie use them? 

TOM FRIEDEN: We’ll have to get back to you about that, Mike. Next question, please? 

OPERATOR: Thank you, next question — actually, if you would like to ask a question, press star one.  You may ask your question.  Next question comes from Kyle Mazza with WUNF News.

KYLE MAZZA:  Thank you, everyone, for taking my call.  I really appreciate it.  Dr. Frieden, and Dr. McAfee, I have three questions, and I’ll ask the question and then I’ll let you respond.  One question I have relates to secondhand smoke.  What is your opinion on secondhand smoke because it does affect — if a person is smoking, let’s say in a car or a public place, and a young child or someone is next to them, they can actually become the victim of secondhand smoke.  So what would your response be to anyone that wants to avoid that? 

TOM FRIEDEN:  You’re absolutely correct.  Secondhand smoke kills. Secondhand smoke causes a wide variety of harms ranging from heart disease to cancer. The details of that are outlined in the surgeon general’s report and no level of exposure to secondhand smoke is safe.  Can we go to your next question? 

KYLE MAZZA:  Yes, sir. My second question has to do, again, with e-cigarettes. If someone wants to quit with them, what would your advice be to that person who wants to seek help on trying to eliminate e-cigarettes or smoking in general entirely? What are some of the outreach programs that you would advise them to go to seek help? 

TOM FRIEDEN:  If someone wants to quit smoking, first off, it’s important to look at what you’ve tried in the past.  What work and what didn’t.  What are the triggers for smoking?  There are a series of things you can do to make it more likely that you’ll succeed next time, taking away those triggers, quitting with a buddy or a friend, getting medications that can double or triple the likelihood that you will quit for good, using a quit line, calling 1-800-quit now or checking a website such as  There are lots of things you can do.  If you don’t succeed at first, try again.  Most people who quit do have to try several times before they quit for good.  Know this, most Americans who have ever smoked have already quit, and you can, too.  Next question, last question for you? 

KYLE MAZZA: Yes, thank you. My final question also has to do with the point that you said not just cutting down cigarettes but cutting them down completely. Can you go into a little bit more of the detail on that aspect? 

TOM FRIEDEN: The only way to eliminate the risk from cigarettes is to stop smoking completely.  Even three to five cigarettes a day can increase your risk of heart disease by around 60% or more. If you smoke, you’re a smoker, even if you’re just smoking a few cigarettes a day. So quitting completely is the only way to eliminate the risk from cigarettes.  Next question, please? 

KYLE MAZZA: Thank you very much. 

OPERATOR: At this time I’m showing no further questions. 

TOM FRIEDEN: We’ll stop here.  I’ll just say, again, thanks to you. You are true American heroes.  Your willingness to share your story will save thousands and thousands of lives.  So thank you for all you’ve done, and to the media, thank you very much for joining us today.  We’re glad to have this launch of the fourth year of the tips campaign which is year after year helping Americans quit this year. We’re able to run it for 20 weeks. Ultimately we would like this ad and ads like this which show the real impact of smoking to be on the air all the time.  We’re still outnumbered, outgunned more than 100 to 1 by the tobacco industry, but with the support and the courage of people like Julia and Marlene, we’re going to help Americans quit smoking.  Thank you. 

KATHERINE LYON DANIEL: Thank you all. That concludes today’s media briefing on the tips from former smoker’s campaign. For media, who would like to arrange an interview, you may call the CDC media line at 404-639-3286 or e-mail us @media  Thank you.  


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