Terrie Hall has toured the country, speaking at schools and community gatherings about her firsthand experience with smoking-related illness. But the 51-year-old throat cancer survivor ventured beyond her comfort zone when she appeared in a national television ad, in which she's seen putting in false teeth and covering her stoma with a scarf.
"That was kind of hard to do," Hall said. "I had never taken my wig off in public before."
Hall said she participated in the ad because of her strong belief in its message that tobacco use not only kills, but causes lingering illness that can affect quality of life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted extensive research into the most effective way to deliver that message.
"Finding out that you're going to die doesn't really help people," said CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden. "And people don't empathize with their lungs. So, showing the picture of a lung may not be as effective as showing a real person and what happens to that individual."
According to the CDC, the strategy paid off. Calls to 1-800-QUIT-NOW doubled and visits to SmokeFree.gov tripled during the 12 week campaign. Public health officials believe the ads will encourage more than half a million smokers to attempt to quit.
As a result of the campaign, Hall is often recognized in public. She said recently one former smoker approached her in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
"She put her hands out to me and she was starting to cry and she said, 'I quit smoking because of you,'" Hall recalled. "Of course, I started crying and had cold chills. It was pretty powerful."
The 12-week campaign cost the CDC $54 million, which is less than what the major tobacco companies spend on advertising in just two days. However, Frieden said the CDC's ads have one significant advantage: truth.
"I'm confident that this campaign is saving thousands of lives," Frieden said. "I'm confident that truth will prevail because these are real stories about real people."
Real people, such as Terrie Hall, who said she is motivated by her strong faith in God and a desire to protect others from the nation's leading cause of preventable death and illness.
"Not everybody walks around with a hole in their neck," Hall said. "Not everybody gets cancer. But some form, some way, somehow, tobacco can and will affect your life."