TOPICS > Health

FDA designs new smoking prevention ad strategy to target teens

February 4, 2014 at 6:21 PM EDT
Bad breath, wrinkles and stained teeth: The FDA is hoping to reach teens with their anti-smoking message by playing into fears about the superficial effects of smoking, as well as the loss of control from addiction. Judy Woodruff discusses the goals of the campaign with Kathy Crosby of the FDA.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tarnished teeth, prematurely wrinkled skin on teenage faces, and students subjected to bullying, those are the images of a new multimedia anti-smoking campaign being launched by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It’s a $115 million campaign that will run in 200 markets over the course of a year, beginning next week, the goal, use ads like these to get through to younger Americans about the personal costs of cigarettes.

Kathy Crosby is the director of health communication and education at the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, making her a point person on this campaign.

And she joins me now. Welcome to the program.

KATHY CROSBY, Center for Tobacco Products, Food and Drug Administration: Thank you so much for having me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So these ads are designed to get to these teenagers. Different from ads that have run before. How?

KATHY CROSBY: Well, we did comprehensive research to understand what would really make a difference to these at-risk teens.

And through the evaluation of the research, we understood that there were certain message platforms that spoke really personally and relevantly to these kids. One is the notion of loss of control, and another is the understanding that there are health costs associated with every single cigarette, but not necessarily the ones that you think of from a long-term standpoint, like death or emphysema.

The kids who are most at-risk for smoking don’t consider themselves to be smokers. They don’t ever believe they will be addicted. And even if they think they’re addicted, they think they can quit at any time. And so we had to focus in on health consequences that we knew would really matter to them more in the short-term.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s take a look at just one of the ads the FDA is running. We are going to show this right now.

ACTOR: Hey, buddy, let’s take a little walk. When I say go outside, we go outside.

When I say fork it over, you fork it over. Hey, when I say pause the movie, we pause the movie. So long, big boy. Pucker up.

NARRATOR: Cigarettes are bullies. Don’t let tobacco control you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned loss of control.


JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s what that’s about.

KATHY CROSBY: It is. And it’s very important to these youth, because they’re just starting to experience control in their life, and the last thing they want to do is think that an unhealthy relationship, in this case, nicotine addiction, could take that control away from them.

And we know that these ads, through the research, have been found to be very powerful.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re also running ads — and we showed a little bit of one before — I guess this was a photograph of teeth.


JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re showing, one, a model with perfectly white teeth, and then another picture of the same young woman with very yellow, almost brownish teeth.


We’re really focusing on some of the consequences that matter to youth, not that obviously the more serious ones don’t, but when you think about the notion of your appeal of — that you could be less than appealing, that’s a really relevant and motivating thing to especially a young woman

So in the case of the ad you’re talking about, showing that the real effects that smoking has on your teeth or your skin, it’s motivating.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you know these messages will get through?

KATHY CROSBY: Yes. Well, we did comprehensive research.

As a regulatory agency, everything we do is steeped in research. And we took these ads and we talked to over 1,600 youth about them in terms of their perceived ad effectiveness. Were they relevant, were they meaningful, did they break through, do they make kids really think? Because, ultimately, our goal is to change their attitudes towards tobacco products, and ultimately change their behaviors

And from the research, we know that these ads did very well in delivering new news in compelling and persuasive ways.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I saw a couple of quotes today from tobacco companies saying, essentially, well, we agree that teen smoking is a problem.


JUDY WOODRUFF: What role are they playing in all of this?

KATHY CROSBY: Well, these are actually funded by tobacco user fees, so not taxpayer dollars.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. This was a result of a judge’s ruling, a court ruling some time ago. Is that right?

KATHY CROSBY: Well, the Congress through the Tobacco Control Act gave FDA the authority to regulate the products.

So as part of that authority, we have the ability to educate on the dangers of the product. And that’s what these ads are about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how many — how are you reaching these young people? What kinds of places are they going to see them or hear them?

KATHY CROSBY: Right. Basically, anywhere where a teen engages in media, we hope to be there. So it’s kind of like fish where the fish are, so everything from MTV and Viacom programs, television, radio, print, out of home, and an extensive opportunity to engage with them in social media through key platforms where youth really engage, like Twitter, YouTube.





JUDY WOODRUFF: And so forth.

KATHY CROSBY: Absolutely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How, Kathy Crosby, do you measure whether this is successful? What do you do to go and find out if this is changing teen behaviors?


So, we have established a very comprehensive benchmark tracking study. So we just concluded interviews with 8,000 youth across the U.S. in 75 markets. And we will follow these same 8,000 youth over the next two years to understand how the campaign has affected their attitudes towards the product and their behaviors towards the product.

So, hopefully, at the end of this time — we believe that we have done our job right. We believe that the messages are inspiring, they’re relevant, they’re credible, they’re meaningful and memorable, and we believe, over time, we will be able to see how effective we have been.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you will go back and have some hard data on whether or not that was the case?

KATHY CROSBY: Oh, yes, absolutely. Yes. FDA is regulatory and everything is steeped in data.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Kathy Crosby with the Food and Drug Administration, we thank you.

KATHY CROSBY: Yes. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me