About FDA

The Real Cost Campaign

More than 10 million youth aged 12-17 in the United States are either open to trying smoking or are already experimenting with cigarettes—meaning they have tried fewer than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime1.  In fact, every day in the United States, more than 3,200 youth under age 18 smoke their first cigarette —and more than 700 youth under age 18 become daily cigarette smokers2.

FDA’s first youth tobacco prevention campaign, “The Real Cost,” seeks to educate these at-risk youth about the harmful effects of tobacco use. The goal is to prevent young people who are open to smoking from trying it and to reduce the number of youth who move from experimenting with tobacco to regular use.  “The Real Cost” campaign launched nationally in February 2014 across multiple media platforms including TV, radio, print and digital. 

Key Messages for the Target Audience

Thumbnail of a Real Cost Campaign Poster

  • Loss of Control Due to Addiction: Reframes addiction to cigarettes as a loss of control to disrupt the beliefs of independence-seeking youth who currently think they will not get addicted or feel they can quit at any time.
  • Dangerous Chemicals: Depicts the dangers of the toxic mix of chemicals in cigarette smoke to motivate youth to find out more about what’s in each cigarette and reconsider the harms of smoking. 
  • Health Consequences: Dramatizes the negative health consequences of smoking in a meaningful way to demonstrate that every cigarette comes with a “cost” that is more than just financial. 


Measuring Success

FDA is conducting a multi-year evaluation to assess how well the campaign is reaching its goals and to identify places where we might refine our messages. The study design is longitudinal, meaning it will attempt to follow the same youth over time. Ultimately, the results will be used to determine if the campaign is contributing to a decrease in smoking among youth aged 12-17.

Do You Work With Youth?

communicationsFDA's goal is to keep “The Real Cost” campaign authentic through a peer-to-peer approach. “The Real Cost” campaign website (www.therealcost.gov) and social channels are intended for the campaign target audience—at-risk youth aged 12-17.  Organizations that work directly with at-risk youth can help extend the campaign in the following ways:


  1. Share free messages on your websites and social media channels through CTP’s Exchange Lab, a free resource that allows you to digitally publish our tobacco-related content.
  2. Download, print, and order free materials for youth.
  3. Send at-risk teens to “The Real Cost” campaign website and social channels.

Campaign Resources for Adults

Public health advocates, educators, and anyone else who is interested in spreading the word about “The Real Cost” to adult audiences can access collateral material including social media content and campaign fact sheets.  These groups can use FDA's social media channels, including @FDATobacco on Twitter disclaimer icon and www.facebook.com/FDA on Facebook, to engage with us around the campaign. We also have a list of suggested tweets that you can use.


Page Last Updated: 02/24/2015
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