WASHINGTON (AFP) - US health authorities unveiled a hard hitting anti-tobacco campaign Thursday using ex-smokers and graphic images of the physical damage caused by cigarettes to convince people to kick the habit.
"Hundreds of thousands of lives are lost each year due to smoking, and for every person who dies, 20 more Americans live with an illness caused by smoking," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
"We cannot afford to continue watching the human and economic toll from tobacco rob our communities of parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and co-workers," she added in a statement.
In one of the commercials to air on television, viewers meet Terrie, a 51-year-old woman who had chemotherapy for oral and throat cancer and now speaks with electronic aid after having her larynx removed.
She is shown getting ready for the day -- putting in her false teeth, combing out a wig and adjusting her throat box.
Another former smoker, 31-year-old Brandon, is shown putting on prosthetics after he lost both his legs to a vascular disease caused by smoking.
"Although they may be tough to watch, the ads show real people living with real, painful consequences from smoking," said Thomas Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"There is sound evidence that supports the use of these types of hard-hitting images and messages to encourage smokers to quit, to keep children from ever beginning to smoke, and to drastically reduce the harm caused by tobacco," he said.
The campaign to convince smokers to kick the habit and warn younger people of the dangers from starting, kicks off March 19 in television and radio ads, on the Internet, as well as theaters, magazines and newspapers nationwide.
The 12-week "Tips from Former Smokers" focuses on diseases such as lung and throat cancer, heart attack, stroke, Buerger's disease, and asthma.
It was unveiled a day after a new US study showed that higher taxes on cigarettes and education campaigns highlighting the danger of smoking had saved nearly 800,000 lives.
A total of 20.6 percent of the US population currently smokes, including nearly four million youths, according to the latest government data. Over eight million Americans suffer from a disease caused by smoking and, while every day over 1,000 youths under 18 become daily smokers, according to the CDC -- at the same time 70% of smokers also say they want to stop.
Another former smoker used by the campaign promotes a more positive -- after 30 years of smoking, James, 48, quit the habit and embraced a healthy, active lifestyle.