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Graphic TV ads highlight risks in new anti-smoking campaign

A hacking cougher with emphysema and a guy using a hand-held electronic device to talk through a tracheotomy hole are among the powerful images in the state's newest anti-smoking television campaign.

The 30-second ads, which began airing Monday and run through Sept. 25, were highlighted Tuesday at a news conference at Roswell Park Cancer Institute to announce the effort to persuade smokers to quit.

"Tobacco use continues to be the No. 1 preventable cause of death," said Andrew Hyland, a cancer center research scientist involved in smoking-related studies.

The state campaign, funded by a $1.8 million federal grant, involves three ads that illustrate both the physical and emotional costs of cigarette smoking.

In one spot, a middle-aged man, using an electrolarynx to speak, wistfully recalls the athletic goals he had as a youth that went unfulfilled because of cancer.

"Research shows that advertising that can elicit an emotional response is the most effective at getting people to think about quitting and then quitting," Hyland said.

He said a similar campaign last year resulted in a massive increase in calls to the state's Quitline, (866) 697-8487. "The demand is out there," he added.

The state's latest ads follow federal officials' June release of nine powerful images that will cover the top half of cigarette packages in the first significant change in label warnings since 1985.

In 2009, President Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gave the Food and Drug Administration the authority to require the labels. Tobacco companies must change their labels by September 2012.

Cigarette use in the state has declined to its lowest recorded level, 15.5 percent of adults, according to Hyland. The figure, however, masks high use among the poor and those with only a high school education or less.

"There has been no progress in lower socioeconomic groups, the most vulnerable," Hyland said.

Tobacco use accounts for about a third of cancer deaths, but smoking also is a major cause of heart disease. Cigarette smoking causes reduced circulation by narrowing the blood vessels.

"Quitting smoking is the No. 1 thing people can do to improve the health of their heart," said Dr. Michael Banas, a cardiologist with the Buffalo Heart Group and a member of the Western New York advisory board of the American Heart Association.

The news conference featured representatives from the American Heart Association and the Tobacco Cessation Center of Western New York, as well as a former smoker.

Shirley Worthington talked about how her mother died of lung cancer in 2007, two years after her beloved dog died of cancer.

"I was smoking a pack and a half a day, and that dog was smoking it with me," she said, describing the constant haze of smoke in which they both lived. She said the deaths prompted her to seek help to quit.

Anthony Billoni, director of the Erie-Niagara Tobacco-Free Coalition, praised the media campaign, saying such ads get smokers' attention.

"There is a lot of science that goes into this," he said. "Scary warnings motivate people to think about quitting."

e-mail: hdavis@buffnews.com

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