The feds got a pretty good ROI on their anti-smoking TV ad campaign

For a whopping $48 million, the first government mass media campaign to convince cigarette smokers to quit sounds pretty pricey, but what does that number really mean in terms of the cost for each smoker who quits? The money only purchased three months of television ads from March through June of 2o12. But that was enough […]

For a whopping $48 million, the first government mass media campaign to convince cigarette smokers to quit sounds pretty pricey, but what does that number really mean in terms of the cost for each smoker who quits?

The money only purchased three months of television ads from March through June of 2o12. But that was enough to make a difference, and the price tag actually makes sense, according to a new study of its cost effectiveness, released Wednesday. The research determined that it cost just $480 for each smoker who quit and $393 per year of life saved.

The campaign and the analysis were both conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but Saul Shiffman, a University of Pittsburgh psychology professor who has spent decades studying smoking habits, said there is no doubt it was a tremendous bargain for the public and, especially, the smokers who quit or added years to their lives. One standard used in studying such interventions considers them cost effective at $50,000 per year of life gained–more than 100 times the cost of the campaigns.

The video campaign shows former smokers sharing about the health consequences they’ve suffered because of the addiction. These people suffered amputated limbs, oral and throat cancer, paralysis, lung damage, strokes, and heart attacks.

One of the most haunting showed  Terrie Hall, a 52-year-old North Carolina woman whose larynx was removed after she was diagnosed with throat cancer. In the ad, she spoke with the help of an artificial voice box. Hall later died.

One aspect of the campaign that seems to have really made a difference is that it explains that even smokers who quit later in life can still improve their health and live longer. The idea that someone has already smoked for so long, so there’s no hope, isn’t the reality.

Smoking rates have declined, but it’s still an issue that is the single most preventable cause of death in the country, according to the study. About 42 million people in the U.S. still smoke, which is 18 percent of the population.