INTRODUCTION: The purpose of this study was to assess 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.
METHODS: From November 2013 to November 2016, a longitudinal study of youth was conducted with a baseline and 4 post-campaign follow-up surveys. The sample consisted of nonsmoking youths from 75 U.S. media markets (n=5,103) who completed a baseline and at least 1 follow-up survey. Exposure was measured by media market-level target rating points and self-reported ad exposure frequency. Smoking initiation was examined among youths who had never smoked at baseline and defined as first trial of a cigarette. Discrete-time survival models using logistic regression and controlling for confounding influences were estimated. Analyses were conducted in 2018.
RESULTS: The odds of reporting smoking initiation at follow-up was lower among youths in media markets with higher levels of campaign advertisements than among those with less. Both between-wave and cumulative target rating points were associated with decreased risk of smoking initiation (AOR=0.69 [p<0.01] and AOR=0.89 [p<0.05], respectively); for every 3,500 between-wave target rating points on air, there was an associated 30% reduction in the hazard of smoking initiation among youths. Results from self-reported recall of the campaign advertisements found similar dose-response effects. The campaign is associated with an estimated 380,000-587,000 youths aged 11-19 years being prevented from initiating smoking nationwide.
CONCLUSIONS: Sustained national tobacco public education campaigns like The Real Cost can change population-level smoking initiation among youths, preventing future generations from tobacco-related harms.