• Decrease font size
  • Return font size to normal
  • Increase font size
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

News & Events

  • Print
  • Share
  • E-mail

Remarks by Mitch Zeller, Director, FDA Center for Tobacco Products, on the Launch of The Real Cost Campaign

Remarks by Mitch Zeller
Director, FDA Center for Tobacco Products
National Press Club
Washington, DC
February 4, 2014

As Commissioner Hamburg mentioned, the FDA has a responsibility to reduce the death and disease toll from tobacco use. That includes educating kids about the dangers of smoking in an effective way, in a way that will reach them, in a way that will connect with them.

As a regulatory agency, everything that the FDA does is grounded in science, and we approached the development of the campaign the same way, following evidence-based best practices.

  • We consulted with experts in tobacco public health education and reviewed the existing literature.
  • We conducted primary qualitative research among at-risk teens to develop effective strategies and messaging to reach this target audience.
  • We conducted quantitative ad testing with 1,600 youth representative of our target who found the ads to be memorable, understandable and engaging.

As part of the formative research we learned that of the 25 million 12-17-year olds today, roughly 40% are at risk of cigarette smoking. So our goal is to reach those 10 million teens that have already taken their first puff of a cigarette or are open to trying one. Research tells us that we need to get to these kids now, before they become regular smokers.  If we can stop that progression, we can avoid the addiction that will follow.  If we avoid the addiction, many lives can be saved.

All teenagers are, without a doubt, hard to reach through media these days as media has become increasingly fragmented.

But the at-risk teens we are targeting with this campaign are even harder to reach because they don’t usually see themselves as smokers and believe that they will stop smoking before they ever get addicted.

Tobacco is also not a topic they’re interested in hearing about because even though they’re open to smoking, they’re closed to lectures.

So these kids are at a crossroads. Let me paint a more vivid of a picture of the youth that we’re trying to reach with this campaign. These kids:

  • Live chaotic, stressful lives due to factors such as socioeconomic conditions
  • Are often exposed to smoking by friends and family
  • May use tobacco as a coping mechanism or a way to exert control

Let’s take a quick look into their daily lives.  The images and words we have captured here will help us all better understand how we envision the challenges they face in their lives, and their attitudes towards smoking.

You can see that these aren’t happy-go-lucky kids. They’re troubled. The campaign was created specifically to reach these vulnerable youth in a persuasive way, to help them hit the pause button and rethink their relationship with tobacco products and the decisions they face about initiating or continuing to smoke.

We are using compelling facts, vivid imagery and personally relevant messages to reach them. We are highlighting consequences that youth are concerned about, such as loss of control due to addiction and health effects like tooth loss and skin damage. 

So now that you have heard all about the development of this new effort, we are excited to show you the ads. Just a reminder…those of us in the room today are not the target for this campaign; our ads are targeted at the at-risk 12-17-year-olds we have been talking about. So they may not resonate with us as they did with the 1,600 teens with whom we tested the ads.

You’ll see two different message platforms this morning.

  • The first focuses on health consequences and demonstrates that every cigarette comes with a “cost” that is more than just financial. More rational in nature, these health costs are aligned with what concerns teens at this stage in their life: cosmetic damage which could hurt their appeal.
  • The second approach is more emotional in nature and highlights how cigarettes can take away the one thing teens are just beginning to experience in their lives: control.
  • Our goal with these two platforms is to provide a balance of relevant, memorable and persuasive messaging.

While this campaign is a historic step for the federal government, we could not have been positioned to take this important step without the dedicated efforts over the years by those engaged in tobacco control at the federal, state, and local levels.  We are truly building on the foundation you have all created with lots of blood, sweat, and tears.

The creative we’re sharing today is intended to surround our target, wherever they may be. You’ll see examples of television spots, print ads, online banners and bus shelters employing both the health consequences and loss of control platforms. You’ll also see our website and social media platforms including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, so you’ll get an idea of how teens will experience the messaging when they are engaging in social media.

We call this campaign THE REAL COST.

The campaign will launch nationally on February 11 and uses a comprehensive multimedia approach. Our ads are going to run in paid media for at least 12 months, surrounding teens with our messages and achieving effective levels of campaign awareness. We are also very deliberately focusing on media outlets that cater to teen interests, like music, fashion, sports, gaming, and comedy.
We know effective youth campaigns can have an impact.  The “truth” campaign proved it: You do the right research, develop the right messages, develop compelling creative, focus like a laser beam on your target and then smartly buy your media.  It’s a dose response; the more you invest, the more impact you will have.  And we’re in a great position to ensure proper delivery of the dose.  Studies concluded that the “truth” campaign had a tangible effect –discouraging some youth from starting to smoke and prompting others to stop and think about what they’re doing.

CDC has found that new tobacco prevention campaigns that reach 75% to 85% of the target audience within one year can expect to produce attitude and behavior change within 2 years if a campaign is run on a truly sustained basis.  Fortunately, we have the resources to do just that. 

How will we know whether it’s working?  Well, the FDA will be conducting an evaluation of the campaign’s effectiveness over time. Baseline data collection with more than 8,000 youth has been completed, and our scientists will follow these youth for two years to assess changes in their key tobacco-related knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.

Ultimately, results of our evaluation will be used to determine if exposure to the campaign achieves our goal to decrease cigarette smoking among youth ages 12-17.

On behalf of all of my colleagues at the FDA, I thank you for being here today to join us at the launch of this campaign.  We look forward to working with all of those dedicated to reducing the death and disease toll from tobacco.