Study Confirms Hard Hitting Ads Motivate New York Smokers to Quit

ALBANY, N.Y. (Dec. 1, 2010) -- A new study confirms the effectiveness of the New York State Department of Health's (DOH) strategy to reduce tobacco use through hard-hitting television ads.

The study, recently published online in the public health journal Tobacco Control, found that using hard-hitting ads with a why-to-quit message is an effective tactic in the fight against tobacco addiction.

"Hard-hitting, why-to-quit messages work because they provide emotionally evocative reasons to quit," said State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. "The strongest ads use graphic imagery or personal testimony to depict the devastation smoking can have on an individual or family. These ads don't shy away from the illness and death that smoking causes."

DOH's most recent smoking cessation television campaign featured two ads, Artery and Separation, which were aired across New York State in August and September.

Separation depicts the personal and emotional impact that smoking-caused illnesses have on the lives of smokers' families, particularly their children. The ad is designed to encourage parents who smoke to consider the potential impact of their death on their children.

Artery shows smokers the damage cigarette smoking does to their bodies by graphically depicting a common negative health consequence (a fatty deposit buildup in an artery) in a realistic way.

"Paid media campaigns are one of our most effective program interventions for reducing smoking," said New York State Tobacco Control Director Jeffrey Willett, PhD. "When we run hard-hitting ads, such as Artery and Separation, there is an immediate increase in the number of calls to the New York State Smokers' Quitline."

During the most recent ad campaign, calls to the New York State Smokers' Quitline increased by more than 9,000 (32 percent) compared to the same time period in 2009. The number of individuals who received free nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) starter kits from the Quitline increased by almost 5,000 (38 percent) compared to the amount distributed during the same period last year.

For the study, researchers used data from the New York Media Tracking Survey Online, a survey of 7,060 adult smokers in New York State. Smokers were asked questions to rate the effectiveness of various ad styles by reporting the extent to which the ads: made them stop and think, grabbed their attention, were believable, and made them want to quit smoking.

Smoking cessation media campaigns have employed a variety of message themes. The three most common themes for cessation campaigns include: ads that provide compelling why-to-quit messages, ads that provide information about how to quit, and ads that focus on the questionable practices of the tobacco industry.

"While there is considerable variation in the types of ads, those using the why-to-quit strategy with graphic images or personal testimonials that evoke specific emotional responses were perceived as more effective than the other ad categories," said Kevin Davis, a senior research health economist in RTI International's Public Health Policy Research Program and the study's lead author.

The study, paid for by DOH with federal funding, concluded that "tobacco control programs that utilize cessation-focused advertising should focus relatively more on ads that adopt the why-to- quit strategy with either graphic images or personal testimonials." The study results are available at: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/early/2010/09/17/tc.2009.035568.full?sid=43696815-4a62-46ce-b025-633eb5f418e9

More than 1.3 million calls have been made to the New York State Smokers' Quitline since its inception in January 2000. The Quitline is a free resource for New York State residents and offers smoking cessation services tailored to the caller's schedule and needs, including:

  • Free starter kit of nicotine patches, gum or lozenges for eligible smokers;
  • Trained Quitline specialists offering help with quit plans;
  • Information about local stop-smoking programs;
  • Motivational taped messages; and
  • Online support and information (www.nysmokefree.com).

New Yorkers can call the Quitline at 1-866-NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487). Call hours are: Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. and Friday through Sunday, 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. During the hours that the Quitline is closed, taped messages offer support and help for quitting smoking. The online Smokers' Quitsite (www.nysmokefree.com) is available 24 hours a day and offers tips for quitting, daily tips, and free nicotine replacement therapy to eligible New Yorkers.