Study evaluates the CDC’s Tips From Former Smokers campaign, finds it an effective smoking cessation program

May 12, 2017

A new study assesses the impact of Tips From Former Smokers (Tips), the first federally funded tobacco education campaign in the U.S., which has been aired annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since 2012.

Paul Shafer

Paul Shafer

Paul Shafer, MA, doctoral student in health policy and management at the UNC Gillings School of Global Health, is a co-author of the study, which was published online May 12 in the journal Health Education & Behavior.

Shafer, also a research economist in the Center for Health Policy Science and Tobacco Research at RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C., joined researchers from RTI and the CDC to determine whether the volume of Tips ads on television was associated with smoking cessation behavior among smokers over the first four years of the campaign (2012–2015).

Despite efforts to reduce smoking nationally, 16.8 percent of American adults – 40 million people – still were smoking cigarettes in 2014. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death, killing about 480,000 people each year and costing an annual $170 billion in medical care.

Anti-smoking media campaigns have been in place for more than 50 years. Even the earliest – presented through the 1967 Fairness Doctrine, through which every cigarette commercial on television had to be balanced with a public service announcement about the risks of smoking – have had some impact on reducing smoking and increasing attempts to quit.

“Although dose-response relationships between antismoking media campaigns and cessation behaviors have been demonstrated at the state-level in the United States and in international settings,” the authors wrote, “these relationships have not yet been established in the context of a nationwide federally-funded campaign in the United States. The Tips campaign provides the first opportunity to do so with robust data on a nationwide cigarette cessation campaign implemented over multiple years in the United States.”

The authors surveyed 22,189 cigarette smokers and 776 recent quitters over four years to examine associations between the cumulative dose of Tips campaign advertising in a media market over the past quarter, measured by gross rating points (GRPs), and quit attempts and intentions to quit.

The results offered some practical implications for those planning smoking cessation campaigns, including confirmation that the use of graphic and emotional messaging in tobacco education campaigns can be highly effective. The study corroborated that the CDC’s recommended media buy of 800 to 1,000 GRPs per quarter was sufficient to generate significant increases in the likelihood that the smokers would attempt to quit smoking – and that this increase was persistent across subgroups of smokers (by age, gender, ethnicity, education or mental health status).

“Tips has been remarkably successful at resonating with smokers through emotional yet informative ads, encouraging hundreds of thousands of smokers to try to quit,” Shafer said. “This study shows that there are incremental gains in quitting behavior with higher doses of advertising, an important finding in a challenging political environment for public health funding at the federal level.”

Other co-authors are Kevin C. Davis, MA, Jennifer Duke, PhD, and William Ridgeway, MA, from RTI International, and Deesha Patel, MPH, Rebecca Glover-Kudon, PhD, and Shanna Cox, MSPH, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health.


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Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu