COVID Messaging Should Become Brutally Honest

Painful antismoking ads of the past could be a model
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 7, 2020 4:27 PM CST
Americans Need More Fear in Their Virus Messaging
Ventilator tubes are attached to a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

So far, public health messages asking Americans to take steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus have been hopeful, calm, and often reassuring. They've appealed to common sense, our appreciation of scientific evidence, and our concern for one another. That approach hasn't worked. Those campaigns should instead provide a harsh dose of reality, Elisabeth Rosenthal writes in an opinion piece in the New York Times. As an example, she cites the antismoking ad campaigns of the late 1960s, which included commercials showing cancer patients trying to talk with a hole in their throat. They were enough to frighten many people—including Rosenthal—into never picking up a cigarette. Smoking rates in the US took a dive.

Rosenthal, a former emergency room physician, isn't advocating anything too graphic to show the ravages of COVID-19. But Americans should be afraid of this virus, she writes, and they should be made uncomfortable. Maybe commercials could show patients struggling to breathe on a ventilator. Maybe lots of tubes and equipment should be visible, and perhaps the fearful eyes of patients as they lie helpless, hooked up and strapped in. As in most such campaigns, celebrities could be involved; actors made antismoking commercials that aired after they'd died. Athletes who nominally have recovered from COVID-19 might talk about the damage their body has suffered. Ads like these would be hard to watch, Rosenthal says. Maybe they should be. (Read the full piece here.)

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