This post has been updated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released altered versions of graphic anti-smoking ads Tuesday after a national ostomy group complained that the videos perpetuated "dangerous and offensive" stereotypes about living with the aftermath of intestinal surgery.
The United Ostomy Associations of America had asked the federal health agency to pull two ads, one of which featured a woman discussing how unpleasant it was to use an ostomy bag after surgery for colon cancer. (I first wrote about the complaint last week.) The point of the ad was that smoking causes colorectal cancer.
The CDC didn't cancel the taxpayer-funded videos, which have run on television and online, but it did edit out some of the language people who live with ostomies found most offensive.
In the longer version of "Julia's Story," for example, a 59-year old woman no longer says of her ostomy: "And you go whenever it goes. You have no control. If it comes loose, it smells."
Also gone is her statement that "I was at home the majority of the time because I was scared it would come loose, it would smell and I didn't want be around anyone. So I was really kinda, like, stuck at home." (You can see the new video at the top of this post and here.)
Beneath the new video is note that the CDC "heard the concerns expressed about Julia’s Story. Based on feedback from people with ostomies, former smokers, and others, we have revised this video."
Two shorter versions have been changed a bit to emphasize that smoking can cause colorectal cancer (italics mine), instead of that it does cause the disease.
In an April 13 letter to the CDC, Susan Burns, president of the ostomy organization, contended that "your ads are undermining what we have done to empower, educate and reduce the stigma of ostomy surgery." She predicted that people who view the ads will refuse or delay "lifesaving surgeries," in part because the messages come from a trusted source of health advice, the CDC. An online petition was begun and other groups chimed in.
When parts of the intestine or bladder are removed, surgeons sometimes must create an opening in the abdomen for removal of body waste, called an ostomy. Feces or urine flows into a bag that is attached to a small portion of the intestine or ureter that extends beyond the skin, called a stoma. The openings can be temporary or permanent. Burns's group estimates that about 750,000 people are living with ostomies.
The CDC's $68 million anti-tobacco ad campaign is designed to be shocking. It follows a $48 million effort that the CDC has said persuaded 100,000 people to quit smoking for at least six months at a cost of just $480 per quitter.
The ostomy group said Tuesday on its Facebook page that it "had a very productive call with senior representatives from the CDC, including the Office on Smoking and Health," and that the two organizations would be working more closely in the future to ensure that similar situations are avoided in the future.
It warned that while the shortened version of Julia's story was now on the CDC's YouTube page, the old version still would be appearing on television because it is "already embedded in television distribution channels." It asked for patience while the more offensive version runs its course.