A series of antismoking ads featuring Ronaldo Martinez, a throat-cancer survivor who speaks through an artificial voice box, may have helped cut smoking rates among men and Hispanics in New York City, the New York Times reported July 17.
The campaign, titled, “Nothing Will Ever Be the Same,” details some of the post-cancer challenges faced by Martinez, including never being able to swim again. Martinez, 53, is a native of Puerto Rico and resident of the Bronx.
“People run and call after me, everybody wants to spend a day with me so they can see how I live,” Martinez said. “To the tobacco companies, I have nothing to say except that they are responsible for the pain and consequences of smoking.”
In 2006, when the campaign debuted, smoking among New Yorkers fell from 18.9 percent the previous year to 17.5 percent. Smoking declined 11.6 percent among men and 15.2 percent among Hispanics.
Martinez has become the most visible face of New York's multi-million dollar antismoking campaign, which included an online component where website visitors could download an audio message from Martinez and send it to friends.
Interestingly, the ads did not originate in New York but rather Massachusetts, where the health department developed them in the 1990s but then discontinued the campaign in 2001 when funding was cut by former Gov. Mitt Romney.
“We ran ads using athletes, politicians, rock stars and they don't work,” said Harvard professor Gregory Connolly, formerly director of the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program. “We used the U.S. women's soccer team. And people said, 'I'm never going to win gold, but I could be Ronaldo.'”
Queens resident Bill Mora said the Martinez ads helped keep him from returning to smoking. “They present a very powerful image that I identified with,” he said. “I recognized him as if I knew him.”