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    FDA’s youth antismoking campaign boasts good results

    Exposure to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) youth-specific national antismoking media campaign—The Real Cost—was associated with preventing young persons from beginning to smoke, according to a recent report covering a more than 2-year period, spanning 2014 to 2016.

    At the start of the study, the FDA interviewed about 5000 youngsters aged from 11 to 18 years from within 75 US media markets about smoking initiation and campaign media exposure, and then followed up with 3 surveys in successive years. Analysis of the collected data indicated that young persons with frequent exposure to campaign advertisements who never had smoked a cigarette at baseline were far less likely to report having begun smoking during the 2-year study period than their peers with little or no exposure to the ads.

    The Real Cost campaign, based on behavior change theories, has aired tobacco education advertising designed for adolescents aged 12 to 17 years on national television, the radio, the Internet, and in out-of-home displays as well as in magazines and movie theaters. The campaign’s central theme is “Every cigarette costs you something.” In its first 3 years, the campaign focused on the cosmetic effects of smoking, loss of control caused by addiction, and the dangerous mix of toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke.

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    High campaign exposure—in follow-up surveys participants used a numerical scale to indicate how often they had been exposed to each ad—was associated with a 30% decrease in the risk for smoking initiation. This association remained after accounting for teenagers’ use of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products during the study period. The study also accounted for demographic characteristics, individual risk factors for smoking, self-reported exposure to other national campaigns, and media market and state-level variables (Farrelly MC, et al. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017;66[2]:47-50).

    Thoughts from Dr Burke

    The researchers do not report the cost of this media campaign. However, they estimate that, in a 2-year period, the program prevented nearly 350,000 young persons from having their first cigarette. With about 900,000 US children smoking for the first time each year, I suspect that the public health funds spent on The Real Cost program was money well spent. —Michael G Burke, MD





    Marian Freedman
    Marian Freedman is a freelance writer.


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