Three people with lungs highlighted are shown coming out of a TV screen. One person has her hand on her hips while the other two people have crossed arms.

For the Love of God, Stop the Fear Tactics

Last updated: July 2019

We’ve all seen them. The so-called public service announcements featuring horrific images of humankind suffering from the effects of smoking. Perhaps more than any other single factor, these anti-smoker ads have perpetuated the stigma that permeates our society.

It’s a damn shame.

How well does shame and fear work?

What other disease is treated like this?

Here is a metaphor that I think applies.

Have you ever heard a “fire and brimstone” preacher? They use guilt, shame, and fear tactics to convince people to turn from wickedness or they will burn in hell. They probably believe that such an approach will work. They may even count the souls they’ve led to repentance -- like notches on a gunslinger’s belt.

I don’t doubt that it does work -- on some.

However, I can’t help but wonder if they would be more effective by simply demonstrating love for others. Isn’t that, after all, the Golden Rule? Showing the love of God to those in danger of the grave consequences of their actions could result in even far greater numbers of people turning from offensive behavior.

Frankly, these terrorist tactics are anything but “public service announcements.”

More harm than good

Can you imagine horrific images of people dying and similar tactics used to warn people of the danger of unsafe sex or illegal drug use? No, because that would be beyond insensitive, right? Of course! Then why does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) seem to think that it is perfectly acceptable to promote negative stereotypes that do more harm than good? The CDC and other organizations created the stigma lung cancer patients and survivors deal with on many levels -- regardless of their smoking history.

I understand the CDC is preparing to release some new so-called PSAs. I wish they would include lung cancer advocates in the process. But I think they would rather listen to clueless marketing types and their own echo chamber. They want to go for the “shock factor” rather than having a meaningful discussion about the issue.

For example, how about they create true public service announcements about lung cancer screening for those at risk—which, of course, includes people with a history of smoking. Not only could that be a compassionate way to reach out to those at risk, but lung cancer screening programs also include a smoking cessation component.

Instead, those folks most at risk for lung cancer are uninformed about this life-saving option, as are their healthcare providers.

It's time to turn on the light

People who smoke are confronted with the risks of smoking multiple times each day. Every time they pick up a pack of cigarettes, there is a message printed on the pack warning them about the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, and other health hazards.

Rather than showing people the darkness, why not turn on the light? If someone is drowning, you don’t lecture them about water safety; you throw them a lifeline. Sharing information about screening is that lifeline.

If the CDC releases another fear campaign that’s destined to make no difference at all, let’s meet them head on and challenge their tactics. Let’s launch a counter-campaign, confront them on social media, and write emails to let them hear our outrage, and hope that it leads to change.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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