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FDA’s “The Real Cost” Media Campaign Reduces U.S. Youth’s Incentive to Start Smoking

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A new study conducted by the nonprofit research institute RTI International assessed the relationship between youth exposure to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s national tobacco public education campaign, The Real Cost, and changes in smoking initiation. The study found that the odds of youth reporting they began smoking was less in media markets with higher levels of advertising than those with less. The study was published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

This longitudinal study is the first in a decade to assess a national youth media campaign’s multi-year impact on smoking initiation using exposure to TV and online ads.

“Approximately 733,000 youths smoke their first cigarette each year,” said Jennifer Duke, PhD, lead author of the study and senior public health analyst at RTI International. “Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable diseases and deaths in the U.S. Media market exposure to this campaign is associated with preventing an estimated 587,000 youth nationwide from picking up a cigarette. These results speak to The Real Cost campaign’s power to educate and prevent tobacco-related diseases and deaths among future generations.”

From November 2013 to November 2016, researchers conducted a baseline and four post-campaign follow-up surveys to evaluate the impact of the campaign on the odds of reporting smoking initiation among youth.

The Real Cost is a national public education campaign designed to prevent and reduce smoking among U.S. teenagers. The campaign ads highlight the health effects, toxicity, and loss of control associated with smoking and is grounded in scientific evidence and behavior change theory. Ads have aired continuously since the launch of The Real Cost in February 2014 resulting in high levels of campaign recall and changes in tobacco-related beliefs nationwide.