ATLANTA -- Federal health officials are mourning the death of a North Carolina woman featured prominently in a graphic government ad campaign to get people to stop smoking.
Terrie Hall died Monday of cancer at a hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. She was 53.
"She was a public health hero," said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted the campaign. "She may well have saved more lives than most doctors do."
A diseased former smoker whose voice box was removed years ago, Hall took a leading role in the campaign that showed how smoking-related cancer ravages the body. Officials believe the campaign led as many as 100,000 Americans smokers to quit.
Hall’s first spot showed the former school cheerleader putting in false teeth and covering her stoma with her scarf. It was the campaign’s most popular spot by far, receiving more than 2.8 million views on YouTube -- more than any other CDC video ever posted online.
Hall, a resident of Lexington, was featured repeatedly in the "Tips from Former Smokers" ad campaign. It was the federal public health agency’s largest and starkest anti-smoking push, and its first national advertising effort. She was the only one of two dozen people appearing in the campaign to be featured in both rounds of ads.
The CDC spent more than $100 million for the two rounds of ads on TV and in magazines and in other media, first in early 2012 and then again this year. The campaign was a bid to try to push adult smoking rates down again after they had appeared to level off for several years.
CDC officials say it worked. They believe the campaign last year led at least 1.6 million Americans to try to quit smoking, and more than 100,000 to succeed, according to agency estimates published last week in the medical journal Lancet.
In an ad for this year’s version of the campaign, Hall addressed the camera in the buzzing sound of her electrolarynx. She advised smokers to make a video of themselves now, in which they read a children’s book or sing a lullaby. "I wish I had. The only voice my grandson’s ever heard is this one," her electric voice growled.
Hall’s cancer was caused by the cigarette smoking she began in high school, CDC officials said. This summer the cancer spread to her brain, and radiation and surgery failed to save her.
Frieden has said the agency will continue the campaign, and Hall was filmed this past weekend in the hospital, during her final days alive. CDC officials said they have not decided whether the most recent footage would be used in future spots.