FDA Shows Teens the Real Cost of Smoking in New Multimillion-Dollar Campaign


10 million children between the ages of 12 and 17 are particularly at risk for becoming addicted to cigarettes. Last month, a report from the US Surgeon General predicted that 5.6 million American children will die from tobacco-related illnesses unless something changes, and according to the Food and Drug Administration, more than 3,200 people under the age of 18 try their first cigarette every day and 90 percent of adult smokers started when they were kids. If teen smoking can be slowed, it could have broad effects. 

And so with a $115 million marketing campaign, the FDA is hoping to change kids’ minds before they get addicted, Reuters reports. At-risk teens aren’t the only group that will be getting such targeted messaging through “The Real Cost” campaign. Other efforts will launch in the next two years that are aimed at rural, gay, African American, and American Indian youth as well. The hope is to wean 300,000 young smokers off cigarettes in the next three years.

“Our kids are the replacement customers for the addicted adult smokers who die or quit each day,” said Mitch Zeller, the director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, according to NBC News. “And that’s why we think it’s so important to reach out to them—not to lecture them, not to throw statistics at them—but to reach them in a way that will get them to rethink their relationship with tobacco use.”[more]

The ads, set to launch on Feb. 11, focus on teen-specific issues, such as appearance and the search for independence. According to Reuters, one ad features the image of a tiny bully with the words, “You wouldn’t take it from a tiny bully, but when you’re hooked on tobacco, you’re taking it from a cigarette.” Other ads feature teens who rip skin from their own bodies or a tooth from their own mouth to help pay for a pack of smokes. 

“The FDA has carefully researched which ads will have the greatest impact on at-risk youth,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, according to USA Today. “These were designed with the same scientific rigor that Madison Avenue uses to market its products.”

The FDA will also continue to monitor 8,000 young people over the next two years to see if the campaign has any effect. In all, it is expected to cost $400 million, but the funds are coming from fees paid to the US by Big Tobacco.

In addition the FDA’s efforts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has relaunched its “Tips from Former Smokers” campaign and anti-smoking group Legacy will also debut a media campaign this summer in an attempt to combat the $8 billion spent each year for marketing by the tobacco industry.

And in a game-changing move today, CVS has announced it will no longer sell tobacco products at its thousands of retail stores. The tide on smoking indeed looks to be changing.