The "Tips from Former Smokers" campaign put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed graphic testimony from smokes who suffered, and the agency says those ads worked better than expected.
The three-month campaign that began in 2012 encouraged 1.6 million smokers to give quitting some serious thought. Now, the CDC says 200,000 have officially put down the pack for good.
The campaign made no bones about the fact that it is hard to quit, but the controversial approach also served as a powerful example of why people should try.
"I'm just glad that my story actually played a role in helping people quit -- or at least making that attempt," Brandon Carmichael, whose story was featured, told FOX 9 News. "I'm glad someone can learn from my mistake."
Carmichael is a Fargo resident who goes to Minnesota State Community and Technical College, and he learned the hard way that smoking can dramatically change a life.
"First, it was my left leg. After my left leg, it was my right leg," he recalled. "Now, I'm a double amputee -- all from smoking."
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After hearing the CDC announce they believe hundreds of thousands have quit since the campaign began, Carmichael admitted he was shocked but pleased.
"I think it's great and that just shows how successful the campaign was," he said.
Although he acknowledges no one can be forced to quit, Mike Sheldon, with Clearway Minnesota -- a non-profit dedicated to reducing tobacco use in Minnesota, said the campaign is effective because people can see themselves in the videos.
"It just points to the fact that this is a hard-hitting campaign," he said. "[It] really is motivating, encouraging people to make a quit attempt and do it quickly."
There are still 625,000 smokers in Minnesota, which works out to roughly 16 percent of the state's population. While that's below the national average of 20 percent, about 5,100 Minnesotans die from tobacco-related illness every year.
"We do have a long way to go, but with the CDC putting out successful campaigns like this, we are moving in the right direction," Carmichael said.