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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

About FDA

Public Education Campaigns

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Encouraging Behavior Change through Public Education Campaigns

Achieving FDA's mission to reduce the enormous public health burden of tobacco use requires a comprehensive, innovative approach. As part of this approach, FDA's Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) is investing in a number of public education campaigns that directly support our mission by educating the public about the dangers of regulated tobacco products.  These campaigns-a first for FDA-are rooted in science and tie directly to FDA's authority to regulate tobacco products. The campaigns, which will take place over several years, aim to affect attitudes and behaviors resulting in reduced tobacco-related disease and death over time. 


"We have a responsibility... to reduce the death and disease toll from tobacco use. That includes educating kids about the harms of tobacco use in an effective way, in a way that will reach them.”

Mitch Zeller

- Washington Post 



Public Education Campaigns

When we talk about public education campaigns, we mean a communication strategy grounded in the best available science, that uses a multimedia approach (such as television, radio, print, online, and billboard advertising) to deliver information to the public. Developing an effective mass media campaign involves:

  • identifying the problem to address;
  • researching the target audience and the best way to reach them;
  • testing messages and materials with the target audience;
  • sharing the messages using a variety of media; and
  • assessing how effectively the messages reached the target audience and changing the messages if necessary.


Educating the Public, Especially Youth

A montage of photos of young people.Although we have made a great deal of progress over the past few decades in reducing the number of people who use tobacco, more than 3,200 youth under age 18 still smoke their first cigarette every day in the United States, and more than 700 youth under age 18 become daily smokers.

Because FDA is a regulatory agency, one important way to educate our main audiences is to inform them about our authority to issue rules and guidance.  Another is to conduct public education campaigns.

Our first national public education campaign, "The Real Cost," launched in 2014. It targets general market at-risk youth aged 12-17 who are open to smoking or already experimenting with cigarettes. Later campaigns will target other distinct audiences including:

  • rural youth;
  • youth who are African-American, Hispanic, Asian / Pacific Islander, or American Indian / Alaskan Native;
  • older youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender;
  • tobacco users (to be implemented at tobacco point-of-sale); and
  • tobacco product retailers.

The campaigns will launch at different times over the next few years, each using carefully crafted messages and communications tactics most appropriate for each target audience.


Using Evidence-based Approaches

Our public education campaigns are based on a robust body of evidence that supports the use of mass media campaigns to prevent and reduce tobacco use. Our campaign efforts are further informed by recognized best practices for mass media campaigns and lessons learned from previous efforts to educate the public about tobacco.

As part of our evidence-based approach, the FDA conducts multiple rounds of research to develop effective strategies and messaging to reach our target audiences. These strategies include:  

Our campaign development and evaluation activities use evidence-based best practices including message development, concept development and copy testing.


Complementing Other Tobacco Education Efforts

CTP's approach to campaigns includes coordinating with other relevant tobacco campaign partners to reduce overlap and leverage expertise for greater efficiency. However, CTP campaigns are specifically rooted in FDA's unique regulatory authority over tobacco. Our campaigns complement other federal efforts that are not related to our regulatory authorities and present a significant opportunity to reduce long-term death, disease, and costs associated with tobacco use.


Measuring Results

Each campaign will be evaluated to measure its effectiveness in changing relevant tobacco-related knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors among the target audience. This important information will help us refine future education efforts and campaigns. 


Get Involved

For more information about our first national public education campaign to prevent and reduce youth tobacco use-and how to get involved-visit "The Real Cost."



Other Key Areas of Focus