Powerful new anti-smoking ads: Effective or too graphic?

Gasping for air and wheezing through coughing spells. They're powerful images that State health officials hope will give you pause.

You've probably seen the new anti-smoking ads running on television. They are graphic and somewhat hard to watch. The 30-second ads, sponsored by the New York State Health Department, are the latest attempt to get smokers to quit, not by preaching, but by showing and letting viewers listen to a man in end-stage emphysema, the result of smoking. Perhaps they will also save others from starting up the habit.

Some complain the ads are too graphic, saying they go too far and are too disturbing to watch. What do you think?

Leslie Holmberg, Clinical Director of the Tobacco Cessation Center of Onondaga, Cayuga and Oswego Counties, says no. 'These ads really are showing what people suffer when they're exposed to is not pretty....and I think they're very realistic.'

Holmberg, whose clinic is at St. Joseph's/Franciscan Healthcare at Janus Park in Liverpool, says the ads are already generating increased response to the New York State Smokers' Quitline--accessible 24x7 online, or at 1-866-NY QUITS.Holmberg says that last year's campaign increased responses by 34%. As importantly, the quit rate went up 28%--in part because of a personalized online quit plan that offered, and in part because of another free incentive: two weeks, for most NY residents, of nicontine patches or other quit-smoking aids.

While we were at Janus Park, we also met a woman who says she was a chronic smoker, and is now in treatment. She told us she loves the ads, and wishes they'd been around when she started, 42 years ago.

Holmberg says she hopes the ads especially reach young people, who she says the tobacco industry calls 'replacement smokers.' She worries 'our kids are being played' by slick marketing, and they especially need a wakeup call.

The ad campaign, funded by a federal grant, features three ads that highlight both the physical and emotional costs of smoking. They will run through September.

Just how powerful are the ads? Will they get people to stop smoking? Will they prevent others from lighting up? The health department is banking on it. In fact, a similar campaign last year let to a huge increase in the number of calls to the state's Quitline, (866) 697-8487. In fact, health officials say the outreach led to a 35 percent increase in Quitline enrollment.

The ads come just two months after federal officials released powerful images that will cover the top half of cigarette packages. They mark the first major change in cigarette label warnings in more than 20 years.

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in New York, accounting for more than 25,000 deaths each year. An estimated 389,000 children and teens who currently smoke will eventually die from it.

Despite all we know about the dangers of smoking, 18 percent of New Yorkers light up, less than the 20.6 percent nationwide. An estimated 12.6 percent of high schoolers in New York smoke along with approximately 3.8 percent of middle school students.

How effective are the ads? Do you think they'll get people to stop smoking or prevent others from starting? Are they too graphic? Leave your thoughts below.