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Lung Cancer Shock Ads…Do They Really Work?

When I was younger I can recall the subtle No smoking PSA’s (Public Service Announcements) that would showcase on the television every now and then. I don’t think I paid as much attention to it — either you got the message or you didn’t. I believe many did get the message but kept on doing what they were doing anyway.

How the tone has changed…

Now in 2019, the PSA’s have taken on a “let’s slap you into reality” tone. Is it a good delivery? I’m not really sure, but depending on the severity of the presentation, I find myself turning away or turning the channel. Why?

Well for one I automatically think of my mother, as she was an on and off again smoker for most of her life. The other reason is seeing the many stories visually displayed on how bad this disease can be, and watching someone’s intimate story of pain. It mentally plays on my thoughts a bit, and this may be exactly what the message is supposed to do, and it does so well. However, do shock ads truly work? Well, there’s some debate on that.

Do these ads really work?

Let’s face it, when we turn on the snooze tube, it takes a powerful message to enter the screen that forces us to stop everything we’re doing to focus on what just happened. The question is; do we change our ways and opinions when we see the message?

At times the message gets clouded with denial, embarrassment, or not wanting to hear that message at that time. For some of us, we get desensitized to what message is being displayed on the screen. I majored in marketing and understand the tactics, and at times appreciate it, but there are times the message doesn’t come across as it should because of the brute force some of the messages present.

Gory or truth

At times you can’t have one without the other, right? The truth of not being able to catch your breath or breathe is a real and serious situation. Many people take breathing for granted, so a PSA showing a woman on the screen shuffling along with a breathing tank, reminds us of the seriousness. Or showing us a man speaking to the screen and telling us he wished he hadn’t smoked at a young age, because now he has to use a voice box, reminds us of the seriousness. Or the infamous Terrie Hall, who was the face of many of these shock campaigns, who shared her story.

In the world of quick service of internet and cell phones, our attention spans can get a bit lax, and if the message is too long, we tend to zone out. When we’re faced with another person’s adversities on the screen it catches our attention for that quick moment, but our own insecurities or what have you makes us turn the channel. Sometimes we can’t handle the truth.

Not a smoker, now what?

Though many of these ads focus on people who’ve smoked, we realize there are many patients who’ve never touched a cigarette a day in their life who are now faced with lung cancer. How must it be for those who followed the rules of these shock ads to still be afflicted? What happens when the rules are followed?

I don’t know the answer but I do know there is huge compassion when these patients share their stories, and the integrity and strength it takes someone to share their truth to this degree is commendable, and with that, you have to believe the message presented is loud and clear.

Life may have been a breeze based on what was happening in your life at that moment…it’s the later after effects that be detrimental.

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.

  1. New Ads From Former Smokers. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed January 22, 2019.


  • Lisa Moran moderator
    10 months ago

    I’ve never seen a lung cancer patient in a no smoking ad. But you know the general public is thinking lung cancer when they see these people talking about consequences of smoking.

    For every Terrie, we need a thousand lung cancer patient advocates to stand up and share their story publicly.

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator author
    9 months ago

    I agree, there should be more advocacy. I along with so many try and do the best we can one group at a time. We’ll keep at it.

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