The Center for Disease Control (CDC) produces some pretty powerful and shocking anti-smoking ads. If they help to convince smokers to stop that is wonderful. Recently, however, they have begun to rerun an ad from 2013 that I find personally offensive. This ad is repugnant and seems to trivialize a situation faced by many in the disabled community. Every time I see the “Suzy” anti-smoking ad, those words come out of my mouth. And every time I say that my wife says to me, “You shouldn’t hate it, you should dislike it”. But the truth is I hate it so much I feel compelled to write about it again.
Many individuals, through no fault of their own, find themselves in the position where they need special assistance in order to have their personal hygiene and dressing needs taken care of. During my rehabilitation, when I realized we were going to have to have someone come into our house every morning I was mortified. Over the years I had become a very private person and carefully controlled the aspects of myself, both physical and mental, I revealed to others. Now someone was going to be injected into my life, invading my most intimate privacies. Embarrassment and humility are among the earliest casualties when a person is disabled by quadriplegia. We are so fortunate to have two wonderful nurses and a third available when necessary. My primary nurse, Rhonda, has been with us over 15 years, and she and her children have become part of our family. JoAnn, our weekend nurse, has been working for us about 8 years, and she too has become part of our family. They are both able to walk the very fine line that separates professional intimacy from demeaning embarrassment. My morning routine is the same every day and somehow I have adjusted to the invasion of my privacy.
The “Suzy” ad visualizes and verbalizes the most degrading aspects of this type of dependency which is probably much different for a man than a woman. It shines a light for everyone to see the most humiliating aspect of being so dependent. “Suzy” arrived at her condition as a result of conscious choices she made. In our early 20s my wife and I both stopped smoking, when the dangerous aspects of the habit were revealed.
The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation estimate there are over 1,275,000 people with spinal cord injury in the United States with the numbers growing daily. Add to this countless victims of stroke and other causes resulting in paralysis. Why should this ad offend and expose those people to embarrassment, humiliation and sadness by reinforcing their own dependency. At the end of the ad “Suzy”, who seems almost flippant about her situation, does not even express regret for her decision to smoke or the circumstances she finds herself in, but rather tells people “My tip to you is to enjoy your independence now”. Is this the message intended by the CDC and the creators of such an advertisement?