In yet another effort to encourage smokers to quit, the federal government has launched its first paid anti-tobacco media campaign that features graphic stories of former smokers who suffer because of their tobacco use.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is spearheading the 12-week campaign, which may remind some Montana and Wyoming residents of the Meth Project, which has presented hard-hitting, often disturbing advertisements since 2005 to deter use of methamphetamine by teens and young adults.

The CDC effort has stirred up interest. Calls to the 1-800-QUIT-NOW help line more than doubled to 33,000 a week after the campaign started March 19. The website saw traffic rise from 20,000 hits to 66,000.

In the CDC ad campaign, former smokers give current smokers some blunt examples of how they are dealing with the consequences of their tobacco use.

Terrie explains how she uses make-up and a scarf to hide her disfigurements and tracheotomy. Suzy explains how she lives day-to-day after suffering a paralyzing stroke. Marie and Brandon show how they get by after losing body parts to amputation.

The ads focus on smoking-related heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, throat cancer, asthma and Buerger’s disease.

“Although they may be tough to watch, the ads show people living with real, painful consequences from smoking,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, CDC director, as he launched the $54 million campaign last month. “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.”

The CDC reports that cigarette smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States. Every year, 443,000 Americans die from smoking related-illnesses, a terrible toll.

“Hundreds of thousands of lives are lost each year due to smoking, and for every person who dies, 20 more Americans lives with an illness caused by smoking,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

The CDC says the annual costs are immense: $96 billion in direct medical costs and another $97 billion in lost productivity.

Still, with all that information available, every day more than 1,000 youth under 18 become daily smokers.

We hope the campaign is effective in reducing the illnesses and deaths associated with smoking.

The ads are tagged with the 1-800-QUIT-NOW number that provides support, or the web address, which provides free quitting advice. If you or someone you know needs help to stop smoking, share this information with them.