The U.S. government is starting a major new effort to cut the country's smoking rate by showing graphic images of people who have sustained life-altering health problems after smoking for years.
The U.S. smoking rate peaked at more than 40 percent of the adult population in the mid-1960s, but government health officials say the rate has stubbornly leveled at about 20 percent in the last decade, a rate substantially lower than in some European and Asian countries, but still higher than in other places.
Millions of people die annually throughout the world from smoking-related illnesses, with many of them in the U.S. With that in mind, the government says that next Monday it is starting a $54 million advertising campaign to try to shock smokers into quitting - and keep impressionable teenagers from starting what often turns into a lifetime habit.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that it will place the ads on billboards, radio, television and social media sites in a three-month effort. One recent study showed that one out of four high school seniors in the country is a regular cigarette smoker, a rate the government described as a "pediatric epidemic."
One of the ads depicts a 31-year-old man who is a double amputee who lost his legs because of a rare blood disorder caused by smoking. The ad says: "Allow extra time in the morning to put on your legs."
Other ads show people with gaping holes in their necks where they were forced to undergo tracheotomies because of smoking-related cancers.
The ad campaign comes at a time when the government - at least for the moment - has been thwarted in its effort to force cigarette makers to place graphic anti-smoking images on half of the front and back of each pack of cigarettes they sell. A federal judge recently ruled the requirement unconstitutional, but the government is appealing the decision.