Landmark anti-tobacco campaign hits home with a young audience, RTI International researchers find

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — An FDA anti-smoking campaign aimed at youth reached high levels of awareness among its intended audience, according to a recent analysis by RTI International researchers.

The campaign, known as "The Real Cost," was a series of TV, online, radio, and other ads designed to emphasize the physical and mental "costs" of tobacco use. It was the first federally funded anti-tobacco campaign aimed at youth, and the first since the FDA began regulating tobacco in 2009.

An RTI study of "The Real Cost," recently published in PLOS One, found that 89 percent of U.S. youth were aware of at least one of the ads 6 to 8 months after the campaign launched.

Awareness was even higher among the campaign's two targeted audiences, youth who had never smoked but were susceptible to trying cigarettes, and youth who had previously experimented with smoking. The rates of awareness for those two groups were 90.5 percent and 94.6 percent, respectively.

"This was a very well-funded effort, and it shows in the awareness of the campaign," said Jennifer Duke, Ph.D., senior research public health analyst at RTI and lead author of the study.

Another key finding was that on a scale of 1 to 5, the study participants gave the ads from "The Real Cost" a score of 4 for effectiveness. The "perceived effectiveness" scores were high across different demographic groups.

According to Duke, other studies have shown that people who consider ads effective are more likely to adopt the behaviors the ads are designed to promote.

"The Real Cost" campaign was notable because it emphasized damage to skin and teeth, and a loss of independence and self-control – the more immediate consequences of smoking that might strike a nerve with teenagers.

The high levels of awareness and perceived effectiveness that "The Real Cost" achieved indicate that it is meeting the CDC's guidelines for a successful public-health campaign, Duke said. Over time, researchers will watch to see if it leads to changes in smoking patterns among U.S. youths.

"Further research will explore the relationship between exposure to the campaign and beliefs about tobacco as well as youth smoking rates," Duke said.

"The Real Cost" ads continue to run in a variety of media.

Teens and tobacco

Highlights

  • An FDA anti-smoking campaign aimed at youth reached high levels of awareness among its intended audience, according to an analysis by RTI
  • The campaign was a series of TV, online, radio, and other ads designed to emphasize the physical and mental “costs” of tobacco use
  • It was the first federally funded anti-tobacco campaign aimed at youth