FDA targets teens in new anti-smoking campaign


February 7th, 2014

Omaha, NE — Cigarettes may be having the worst week ever.  


In a recent press release, Larry Merlo, president of CVS Pharmacy, announced the decision to stop selling tobacco products stating that doing so is inconsistent with their purpose of improving health outcomes for their patients, clients and health care providers.

The pharmacy joins another agency that also announced a new campaign this week against smoking. The US Food and Drug Administration launched the “Real Cost Campaign.”


One of the many ads the FDA has created to target teens. The agency’s research shows that teens are open to talking about the changes that smoking can have on physical appearance. (Photo Courtesy FDA)

Mitchell Zeller, director of the Center for Tobacco Products at the FDA, said the campaign is targeting 10 million at risk 12-17 year olds who have not yet become regular smokers. He said these youths may be on the cusp of taking their first puff or they have already started smoking occasionally.

“We once thought that most kids started smoking because they perceived it to be cool and that may have been true 15, 20,25 years ago,” Zeller said. “These kids are not smoking because they think it’s cool. They’re smoking as a coping mechanism to deal with the stresses and the strains and the difficulties and challenges that they face in school, at home and in their social circles.”

Zeller said the “Real Cost Campaign” aims to reverse the attitudes and beliefs that teens have about smoking through detailed ads developed to get the attention of youths. The FDA’s research shows that teens don’t want a lecture about the ill effects of smoking and those who have started smoking don’t consider themselves smokers, but they are receptive to talking about being bullied by cigarettes and how to take control of their lives. Teens are also responsive to how using tobacco products will change their appearance over time, according to Zeller.

“They don’t think that the nasty chronic diseases will happen to them or if they do it’ll happen so much later in life that they can’t really relate to it,”Zeller said. “What we learned from our research is if you talk to them about skin wrinkles or tooth loss you can get them to rethink all of those attitudes and all of those beliefs.”

Tobacco Free Nebraska is a local organization dedicated to reducing tobacco use among young people, eliminating secondhand smoke exposure and cessation.

The current smoking rate for Nebraska youths in grades 9-12 is 11 percent—down from 34 percent in 1993. In 2013, eight percent of youths used smokeless tobacco, cigars or cigarillos. While figures are down, Jeff Soukup(SOAK UP), program manager of TFN, said it’s not enough.

“Even though we’ve seen a tremendous drop with youth smoking we know that that’s still too high,”Soukup said. “We’ll continue to work and we’re committed to seeing that drop even further. We’ve seen those rates kind of plateau out a little bit and we want to make sure that we continue to see that go down.”

Soukup said that educating and empowering youth is the main tactic in preventing youth from smoking.

“Education is important and it’s important for youth to know the facts about the health impacts of tobacco,” Soukup said. “But just as important is what’s all around them and how much their exposed to in marketing, images in movies/tv, how much access they have to it and how much they see others around them using as well. Changing that norm is really important in terms of how much tobacco use is going to go on.”

David Holmquist, Nebraska’s director of government relations for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, said the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report was a big stepping stone in American’s smoking habits.

“The biggest finding back in 1964 is that smoking caused lung cancer and that really caused people to really sit up and take a lot of notices to what the dangers of smoking were. The 1964 Surgeon General Report made a world of difference in the attitudes of the American people towards smoking,” Holmquist said.

Currently, the state of Nebraska spends 11.1 percent ($2.38 million) on programs to help prevent youth from smoking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends annual funding of $21.1 million, according to Holmquist.

He said funding has decreased to as low as $405,000 and been as high as $3.5 million.  

“We need to make it a higher priority in the legislature to spend the appropriate amount of money to keep kids from smoking and to encourage adults to quit,” Holmquist said.

Holmquist also said that although Nebraska has one of the strongest smoke-free laws in the nation—one that has contributed to a decrease in youth smoking— Nebraska ranks 38th in the nation when it comes to state excise(EK SIZE) tax rates on cigarettes. Nebraskans pay 64 cents on a pack of cigarettes. New Yorkers, who have the highest state excise tax rate for cigarettes, pay $4.35 towards a pack of cigarettes.

He said if funding and taxation can be addressed, the state will have a better chance reaching smokers both young and old.

“Prevention is critical. People don’t think as much about prevention as they should. If we can keep young people from starting to smoke we can have a long term affect that will be very positive for years and years to come,”Holmquist said.

This is the first campaign of its kind for the FDA.Their goal is to reduce cigarette smoking by at least 300,000 in three years.


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