With annual advertising costs in the tens of billions, campaigns waged by the tobacco and fast food industries are contributing to the nation’s health problems. Now, tapping into Madison Avenue’s best strategies, public health programs are striking back with innovative ads of their own.

At the federal, state and local levels, public health agencies are using sophisticated, targeted strategies to deliver hard-hitting ads designed to raise awareness of health issues, spark dialogue and change health behaviors. In some cases, as with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new Tips from Former Smokers campaign, the haunting voices and hollow faces that are appearing on the nation’s TV screens, billboards and on the Internet are eliciting reactions ranging from praise to shock.

Launched in March, CDC’s Tips from Former Smokers campaign is the federal government’s most ambitious attempt to date to win the battle against the leading cause of preventable death. The first federally funded anti-smoking campaign, Tips from Former Smokers uses graphic stories of real people living with the complications of tobacco-related diseases. In one ad, Brandon, 31, tells how he started smoking at 18 and has lost both of his legs and several fingertips to Buerger’s, a smoking-related disease. In another ad, three smokers who developed throat cancer explain the difficulties of shaving, showering and eating with a stoma, or surgical opening in the neck.

To continue reading this story from the July 2012 issue of The Nation’s Health, visit the newspaper online.

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