Thursday, April 09, 2015

New CDC Ads Challenge Value of NRT in Quitting Smoking

A new ad campaign released today by the Centers for Disease Containment (CDC) targets nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) for the first time. The agency says it is taking aim at NRT because its statistics show that the majority of users aren't quitting smoking.

One of the new ads takes on NRT directly. In the print ad, a 35-year-old woman named Kirsty says: "I started using the nicotine patch but it didn't work and I kept smoking. Right up until my lung collapsed." The image shows a surgical scar.

The CDC has expanded its anti-smoking campaign to include NRT because "the majority of users aren’t giving up smoking," said the senior medical officer at the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health.

The CDC cited a 2013 article published in Future Medicine which reported that 87.5% of smokers who try NRT continue to smoke cigarettes.

Kirsty's full story was revealed on the CDC web site. After smoking for 20 years, she tried the nicotine patch in an attempt to quit smoking. However, she failed. Two weeks later, her lung collapsed.

Anti-smoking groups blasted CDC's new ads. The Campaign for Kid-Free Tobacco released the following response: "The anti-NRT side has been spewing crap like this constantly, but the NRT market continues to grow. People know the truth about NRT."

The American Pulmonary Association also attacked the new ads: "While NRT may have an 87.5% failure rate, it has a 12.5% success rate. It isn't fair to condemn this product entirely just because it doesn't work for everyone. We know it works for many people and that's what counts."

The American Cardiac Association expressed concern that this campaign could seriously undermine smokers' attempts and motivation to quit. Its chief medical scientist told the Rest of the Story: "This is a completely unfair attack on NRT. By pointing out the failure of NRT in the majority of users, this campaign is going to discourage smokers from trying to quit using these products. Thousands of smokers who would otherwise have quit are going to keep smoking instead, and that is going to cost lives."

The anti-smoking groups' harshest criticism for the campaign was directed at the way in which the actor - Kirsty - was recruited. The CDC put out an ad recruiting specifically for a smoker who had tried NRT and failed and then shortly thereafter suffered a smoking-related complication. According to the president of the American Pulmonary Association: "This was at best dubious, and at worst unethical. Why recruit for the smoker who tried NRT and failed? Why not recruit one of the many thousands of smokers who tried NRT and quit? Their stories also need to be told."

The CDC's recruitment ad stated: "Are you a former smoker who used the nicotine patch or nicotine gum to try to quit cigarettes, but ended up continuing to smoke cigarettes? Did you use nicotine replacement therapy because you thought it would successfully help you quit smoking? Share your story. We will provide an initial recruitment payment of $2500 as well as all travel and lodging expenses to the location for the filming and recording. Ongoing and residual talent fees will be based on Screen Actors Guild (SAG) rates and guidelines."

Specifically, the CDC was recruiting for a smoker who tried to quit using NRT but failed and then suffered a smoking-related complication, prompting them to quit cold turkey without medication. Kirsty's story fit the bill.

ADDENDUM: This is obviously a satire. The CDC did not challenge the value of NRT in quitting smoking. Instead, they challenged the value of e-cigarettes. But the current scientific evidence shows that the value of these two products is roughly similar (although I think the value of e-cigarettes greatly exceeds that of NRT because a huge proportion of its users greatly reduce their cigarette consumption and the level of addiction to smoking is reduced in dual users). By substituting NRT for e-cigarettes, you can see exactly what CDC has done with this campaign in terms of undermining smoking cessation.

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