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Today Calls it Quits. Now it’s your turn, viewers. January 30, 2009

Posted by Nalini Padmanabhan in Health Communications & Marketing.
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I was sipping my coffee and watching the Today Show earlier this week when hosts Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira introduced a new miniseries within the show called “Today Calls it Quits” (available here on AOL Video). As I saw over the next several minutes, the series – produced in partnership with national nonprofit the American Legacy Foundation – aimed to help smokers kick the habit by providing medical information about the dangers of smoking and the benefits of quitting, concrete solutions and tips, and helpful resources.

As a public health student and former American Lung Association intern, I was immediately intrigued. In its first installment on January 29, 2009, the show followed two current smokers through interviews and laboratory demonstrations in a doctor’s office. Their experiences were interspersed with conversations with other health personnel that explained the immediate and long-term benefits of quitting smoking. At one point, after seeing on a filter the chemical effects of smoking a single cigarette, self-proclaimed social smoker Maurizio reacted simply but honestly. “Wow,” he said, pausing for a moment, “that scares me.”

Maurizio’s reaction and self-preservation speak to just one of the benefits of quitting that the American Legacy Foundation hopes to convey in the series, according to their press release. With two initial installments broadcasted on January 29 and 30 and on-air follow-ups scheduled for March, the series profiles three parents and other adults who aim to quit for other reasons as well, such as setting a good example for their children. In addition to TV, the effort includes online components and partners as well, including placement on the Today Show’s homepage, online chatting capability, and links to quit plan website BecomeAnEX.org.

The kind of information presented on Tuesday’s installment was nothing new – a filter blackened by exposure to cigarette smoke is a familiar image from our elementary school science and health classes, and I recognized the benefits of quitting from a popular poster accompanying the 2004 Surgeon General’s Report. What was new about the campaign, however, was its form. Antismoking public service announcements (PSAs) have been around for ages, as have socially conscious episodes addressing health issues as part of popular sitcoms and family dramas. Much has been said in recent years about the health communication potential of telenovelas – how they have been used to bring up issues and convey health information, and how they can further be leveraged.

But this was my first exposure to health messaging within a fact-based show. Its placement caught me off guard, as I’m sure it did others, and in our era of media oversaturation, getting the audience’s attention by surprising them is a great first step. It included the personal stories of a variety of individuals, aiming for and achieving relatability. The resources included at the end of the segment gave viewers something concrete and measurable to do. All in all, it seems to be a promising, innovative effort and I’m curious to see what will come of it.

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