TO FEAR OR INSPIRE?
Tobacco smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the USA (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention 2018). In 2012, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched the ‘Tips From Former Smokers Campaign’ (Tips) which utilised fear, graphic imagery and real stories to create anti-tobacco advertisements. According to Emery, the campaign reached every media market in the US through television, radio, websites, billboards and print (Emery et.al, 2014).
The key message of Tips is that ‘smoking causes immediate damage to your body and long-term health problems’ (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention 2018). Video 1 features this message with a throat cancer patient and damages to her teeth, hair and voice. All advertisements follow the same graphic and emotional formula to examine various diseases, disabilities and life-threatening episodes.
Success in Tips is measured by three key points: user engagement with their services, growing partnerships and government funding. In 2012, the CDC reported a 132% increase in their Quitline calls and a 482% increase in website visits (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention 2018). As Biener supports, a graphic and emotional approach to anti-tobacco advertising is associated with higher recall than humorous and non-emotive ads (Biener et. al., p. 263). While this data paints a celebratory narrative, scholars have raised ethical concerns about using fear in campaigns. According to Gass and Seiter, the use of threats to evoke psychological distress is unethical and unfair to audiences (Gass & Seiter 2011, p. 21). This may be argued in Video 2, where the threat of sickness and death may trigger anxiety or grief for some viewers. Consequently, critics argue that alternatives such as guilt or positive reinforcement should be further researched (Emery et.al, 2014).
The second indicator of success is expanding partnerships with health practitioners, military services, public housing residences and faith-based organisations. Through widespread collaboration, the CDC extends their public reach by sharing information, resources, posters, brochures and website badges with their partners (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention 2018). While Tips has built a strong public presence, Figure 3 reveals a lack of variation in quit smoking statistics. According to Davis, this is due to averaging results between 2012-2015 which only analyse the television component of the campaign (Murphy-Hoefer et.al. 2018, p. 4). Consequently, the data surrounding Tips should remain open to scrutiny for more accurate information. Finally, success is indicated by increases in government funding from $54 million in 2012 to $216 million in 2016.
Overall, the Tips campaign represents a positive beginning in attitudinal behaviour change towards tobacco in the USA. However, it is important to avoid an overly utopian view by remaining critical towards issues of ethics and data collection.
Biener, L., Ji, M., Gilpin, E. A., Albers, A. B. 2004, ‘The Impact of Emotional Tone, Message and Broadcast Parameters in Youth Anti-Smoking Advertisements’, Journal of Health Communication, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 259-274.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention 2012, CDC: Tips From Former Smokers – Terrie’s Tip Ad, Video, Youtube, viewed 03 January 2018, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zWB4dLYChM>.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention 2014, CDC: Tips From Former Smokers – Terrie Surgeon General Ad, Video, Youtube, viewed 03 January 2018, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEDpJTTDZP8>.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention 2018, About the Campaign, Atlanta, viewed 03 January 2018, < https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/about/index.html?s_cid=OSH_tips_D9393>.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention 2018, Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults in the United States, Atlanta, viewed 03 January 2018, < https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/adult_data/cig_smoking/index.htm>.
Emery, S.L., Szczypka, G., Abril, E.P., Yoonsang, K., Vera, L. 2014, ‘Are You Scared Yet? Evaluating Fear Appeal Messages in Tweets About the Tips Campaign’, Journal of Communication, vol. 64, no. 2, pp. 278 – 295.
Gass, R.H., Seiter, J.S. 2011, Persuasion Social Influence and Compliance Gaining, 4th edn, Pearson, London.
Murphy-Hoefer, R., Davis, K.C., Beistle, D. King, B.A., Duke, J. Rhodes, R. Graffunder, C. 2018, ‘Impact of the Tips From Former Smokers Campaign on Population-Level Smoking Cessation 2012-2015, Preventing Chronic Disease, vol. 15, pp. 1-4.