FDA Public Education Campaign Aims to Prevent and Reduce Youth Tobacco Use

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

Today, FDA launches something truly unique: its first public education campaign to prevent and reduce youth tobacco use. Never before has the Agency embarked on an education campaign of this nature and magnitude. It’s the ultimate synergy of public health and regulation. The first of five distinct youth-focused efforts we have in the works, “The Real Cost” campaign seeks to reduce the number of youth smokers in our country over the next few years. 

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.Those of us in the public health and medical communities know all too well the startling statistics surrounding teen tobacco use, especially smoking, and want to do all we can to prevent young people from becoming addicted. Unfortunately, there are more than 10 million youths ages 12 to 17 who are open to smoking or already experimenting with cigarettes. 

As a physician and especially as a parent, I also know getting the message right to reach teens is critical. We have to be smart about how we talk to children about  a behavior like experimenting with tobacco products. So instead of sounding like yet another authority figure citing statistics or telling teens not to do something because it is bad for them, we dedicated significant time and research into creating something that will catch their attention. Our multimedia campaign is designed around visually compelling and personally relevant messages that will appeal to, and resonate with, teens at-risk for smoking. 

Through television, radio, social media and outlets associated with their interests, including music, fashion, sports, gaming, and comedy, our campaign  seeks to surround at-risk teens with messages that reach them where they are in their daily lives. 

“The Real Cost” aims to make them acutely aware of the potential risk from every cigarette by highlighting consequences they are concerned about.  

One set of creative materials challenges the beliefs of independence-seeking youths who  think they will not get addicted or feel they can quit at any time by portraying addiction to cigarettes as a loss of control. 

Another approach dramatizes the health consequences of smoking by graphically depicting results like tooth loss and skin damage to demonstrate that every cigarette comes with a “cost” that is more than just financial. 

Some ads highlight the fact that menthol cigarettes cause the same health consequences as regular cigarettes, as youths are more likely to report smoking menthol cigarettes than regular cigarettes. 

The development of the “The Real Cost” campaign is grounded in research and supported by best marketing practices as well as multiple rounds of testing with our target audience. Our ads will run nationwide across multiple platforms beginning February 11.  And that’s only the beginning: subsequent youth tobacco prevention campaigns will target other audiences, including multicultural, rural, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths. 

So today, FDA is taking our mission of protecting kids from tobacco to the next level  – by reaching out to them with images and words that speak to them. We look forward to seeing the impact of this important public health effort and to making tobacco use a part of America’s past, not its future.

Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is Commissioner of Food and Drugs

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