Where the Good-Intentions Rubber Meets the Reality Road

There is a widespread feeling that the government could and should do more toward reversing the obesity epidemic. So, we have been looking at the advantages and the downsides of adapting control mechanisms that have been applied to alcohol and tobacco products. Looking back over a series of posts, this “Smoking-Related Roundup” sums up the main takeaway, or in many cases the still unresolved questions, from each one.

Many programs depend on willpower, which is not universally available among habituated or addicted individuals. It is difficult to obtain credible success rates from quit-smoking and quit-drinking programs, especially in the long term.

Here is a footnote to that observation. In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control announced that “More than 100,000 Americans quit smoking due to national media campaign.” It was the first time any federal agency had paid for a tobacco education campaign. The content of the celebratory press release about “Tips from Former Smokers” did not quite live up to the headline:

As a result of the 2012 campaign, more than 200,000 Americans had quit smoking immediately following the three-month campaign, of which researchers estimated that more than 100,000 will likely quit smoking permanently.

Without getting obsessive about it, there are two sticking points: First, “permanently” is a long time. This paper was published only five or six years ago. By comparison, one source says:

[R]esearch shows that with good smoking cessation programs, 20 to 40 percent of participants are able to quit smoking and stay off cigarettes for at least one year.

That’s only between one-fifth, and at most, four out of 10 — who had quit for only a single year — which is not anywhere near “permanently.” According to another source, only about 8 percent of quitting attempts are successful, which is less than one out of 10 people who try.

The other problem with the CDC report is the part about how, out of those 200,000 who were inspired to quit by the public relations effort, researchers estimated that more than 100,000 would likely quit smoking permanently. “Estimated” and “will likely” are both weasel words that are meaningless in a scientific report, which is supposed to document what did happen, not what the authors believe or hope might happen.

That’s a different kind of paper. If we could do an accurate followup today with all those 200,000 subjects, how many of them have resumed smoking since then? Probably way more than half.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “More than 100,000 Americans quit smoking due to national media campaign,” CDC.gov, 09/09/13
Source: “Smoking Cessation,” USNews.com
Source: “What you need to know to quit smoking,” TruthInitiative.org, 11/07/18
Photo credit: koocbor on Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources