FDA and the Department of Defense: A Joint Force to Reduce Tobacco Use in the Military

By: Kathy Crosby

Tobacco use continues to be a serious problem, particularly in the military community. So when I presented FDA’s award-winning The Real Cost ads at the Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health earlier this year, they caught the eye of Public Health Service Capt. Kimberly Elenberg, a program manager from the Department of Defense’s Defense Health Agency (DHA). She was looking for a way that FDA and DHA could work together to reduce smoking rates among the military community, especially youth.

Kathy CrosbyDHA already actively encourages service members to live a healthier life through Operation Live Well (OLW), a program that aims to make healthy living the easy choice and norm for service members, retirees, DoD civilians, and their families. OLW’s goal is to highlight and offer resources that teach and encourage its members to choose wisely about their nutrition, get physically fit, maintain healthy sleep practices, get and stay mentally healthy, and avoid or stop using tobacco products.

The latter goal is especially significant given that military service members smoke at a higher rate (24 percent) than their civilian counterparts (18 percent), and those who identify as heavy smokers often began smoking earlier than their civilian counterparts – at 14 years old or younger.

Since adult tobacco use is almost always initiated and established in adolescence, both Capt. Elenberg and I felt that the military community, especially military kids, would benefit from some of the tobacco prevention materials we develop here at FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

Working collaboratively, we developed an agreement where FDA would supply DHA with six advertisements from The Real Cost campaign, to run in more than 100 military installation movie theaters, domestically and internationally, until March 2016. The ads focus on consequences of tobacco use such as loss of control due to addiction, cosmetic health effects and the toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke.

The Real Cost educates viewers about the dangers of tobacco use by making them fully aware of the real cost of every cigarette. It portrays in new ways the health and addiction risks associated with tobacco use. By partnering with DHA, we are able to help military service members and their families lead healthier lives by encouraging them to rethink their relationship with tobacco.

I feel honored that DHA sees the potential for our work to make a positive impact on military families. To date, The Real Cost has far exceeded the recommended best practices to achieve behavior change and improve public health, reaching more than 90 percent of the target audience at least 15 times a quarter, and the campaign has generated nearly 2.5 billion digital impressions on youth-focused websites. I hope that our collaboration with DHA will continue to introduce new viewers to the campaign and educate them about the dangers of tobacco use.

Great ideas for collaborating with other agencies and groups come from a variety of places. If you have an idea for how we can continue to help reduce tobacco use, I would love to hear from you.

Kathy Crosby is FDA’s Director, Office of Health Communication and Education, Center for Tobacco Products.

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