CDC's Apology Letter About Anti-Smoking Ads

CDC heard the concerns expressed about the new colorectal cancer ads from the Tips From Former Smokers campaign and regrets any distress or concern some of the messages and images may have caused. This outcome was never intended. Ostomies are life-saving procedures and many people need them for reasons unrelated to smoking. Both Mark and Julia, the courageous ad participants featured in the Tips colorectal cancer ads, had ostomies and focused on their ostomies as part of their personal stories about smoking-related colorectal cancer.
We sought the advice of numerous groups and individuals and have made multiple changes to the Tips colorectal materials. For example, we cut a number of comments in the online video, Julia’s Story, available on CDC’s website, to address important concerns—specifically her reference to odor, leakage, and fear of leaving her house.  Julia’s Ad, the 30-second ad shown on national TV, will be rotated off national television over the next several days. CDC is also taking steps to modify the other 30-second colorectal cancer ad, Julia and Mark’s Ad, which has been on our website but has not yet been aired on national TV. This ad focuses more broadly on their experiences with colorectal cancer, and briefly mentions needing surgery, chemotherapy, and a colostomy bag as elements of colorectal cancer treatment that they experienced. This ad will be aired nationally in May, June, and July.
CDC remains committed to educating the public about how smoking puts them at higher risk for colorectal cancer. This new finding in the 2014 Surgeon General’s report is critical to get out, since we for the first time know that thousands of people die each year from colorectal cancer that was caused by smoking. The Tips colorectal cancer ads and stories will remain online for people who seek them out and are interested in learning more about Mark and Julia’s stories. Information on ostomies, ostomy support groups, and colorectal cancer screening is also now available on the campaign web site.
Smoking is responsible for the deaths of more than 480,000 Americans each year. For every smoking-related death, at least 30 Americans live with a smoking-related illness. The Tips campaign, now in its fourth year, has been effective in encouraging smokers to quit. Early data show that calls to state tobacco quitlines have increased by nearly 70% since the latest ads began running last month.. If we can cut smoking rates, we also potentially reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer and improve outcomes for patients with Crohn’s disease an outcome we can all celebrate.”

Tim McAfee, MD, MPH
Senior Medical Officer
Office on Smoking and Health
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention