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FDA to Teens: Consider 'Real Cost' of Tobacco Use

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched its first public health education campaign—"The Real Cost"—to prevent and reduce tobacco use among at-risk young people ages 12-17. Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of FDA's Center for Tobacco Products (CTP), explains why the agency is undertaking this effort and how it will work.

Q: Why has FDA launched a youth tobacco prevention campaign? 

A: Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States, responsible for more than 480,000 deaths each year. But the consequences of tobacco use are not limited to adults. Tobacco use is almost always initiated and established during adolescence. More than 3,200 young people under age 18 smoke their first cigarette every day in the United States—and another 700 become daily smokers. FDA sees a critical need for targeted efforts to keep young people from starting on this path. Reducing the number of teens who start smoking will diminish the harmful consequences that tobacco use has on the future health of our country. "The Real Cost" campaign ads will run nationwide beginning on February 11.

Q: Tell us more about the campaign and its target audience.

A: As FDA's first campaign to prevent youth tobacco use, "The Real Cost" targets the 10 million young people ages 12-17 who are open to trying smoking or who have already smoked between one puff and 99 cigarettes in their lifetime. These youths share important characteristics that put them at risk for tobacco use. They are more likely to live chaotic, stressful lives due to factors such as socioeconomic conditions; be exposed to smoking by friends and family; and use tobacco as a coping mechanism or a way to exert control or independence. Additionally, many at-risk youths who experiment with cigarettes do not consider themselves smokers, do not believe they will become addicted, and are not particularly interested in the topic of tobacco use. We want to make these teens hyperconscious of the risk from every cigarette by highlighting consequences that young people are concerned about, such as loss of control due to addiction and health effects like tooth loss and skin damage.

Q: How is FDA going to implement the campaign?

A: We'll use paid advertising to surround teens with the "The Real Cost" message. This includes advertising on TV, radio and the Internet, as well as in print publications, movie theaters and outdoor locations like bus shelters. We plan to reach more than 9 million youths with our messages as many as 60 times a year.

Q: How will FDA know if the campaign is working?

A: FDA is going to evaluate the campaign over time to see if it's effective. We're going to conduct a longitudinal study, meaning that we are going to try to follow the same 8,000 youths over a two-year period. We will assess key changes in their tobacco-related knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors over several years to measure the impact and effectiveness of the campaign. In-person, baseline data collection started in November 2013 in 75 media markets across the country. Ultimately, we want to see if exposure to the campaign is associated with a decrease in smoking among youth.

Q: Is this campaign funded by U.S. tax dollars?

A: No. User fees collected from the tobacco industry fund all FDA's tobacco-related activities, including educating the public about the harms of tobacco use.

Q. Is this FDA's only youth tobacco prevention campaign?

A: This initial FDA effort is the first of several distinct youth-focused campaigns being launched in the next two to three years. Other youth tobacco prevention campaigns will target additional audiences such as African American, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaskan Native youths, rural youths, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths.

Q: How can I get involved?

A: FDA's goal is to keep "The Real Cost" campaign authentic through a peer-to-peer approach. The campaign website and social channels are intended for teens. We recommend that adults use and share the materials on FDA's resource page, including campaign information and customizable resources such as posters, postcards and campaign flyers. All materials are available for free download and many will soon be available for ordering through the campaign's clearinghouse. Stakeholders who work with youth audiences can help extend the campaign by encouraging teens to share campaign messages with their peers, or by sharing our resources with other youth-focused organizations. For more information, please contact CTPcommunications@fda.hhs.gov.

This article appears on FDA's Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

February 4, 2014

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