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New FDA ads counter teen smoking with bullies and bad skin

Photo by United States FDA

Photo by United States FDA

HOST INTRO: There’s a new anti-smoking campaign rolling out this week, aimed at teenagers. But this time it’s being run by the Food and Drug Administration, a first for the agency. Hilary Brueck reports on the FDA’s new approach.

Anti-smoking ads work, social scientists say. But they aren’t used often enough, according to a report on smoking the Surgeon General issued in January. The FDA is trying to fill the void, launching a new ad campaign with a new approach.

In one of the ads, a cigarette grabs a kid by the collar, and drags him to the curb.

AD: “Hey, when I say pause the movie, we pause the movie. Come on big boy,” 00:08

A cigarette-sized man is wearing camel-colored jeans and a white t-shirt. His hair looks like ash.

AD: “Pucker up. Cigarettes are bullies. Don’t let tobacco control you.” 00:07

Peter Messeri, of the school of public health at Columbia University says he’s never seen an ad campaign like it.

MESSERI “Each generation of youth requires it’s own special marketing.” 00:06

Messeri’s done research on teen smoking ads. One of the things he’s found is crucial is making sure kids never light up that first cigarette.

MESSERI “Their target 12 to 15 year olds might think ‘oh well, I can experiment and I should be able to stop smoking, only to discover that smoking a few cigarettes tends to bring on some kind of dependency.” 00:14

Messeri believes a bullying cigarette ad will probably be effective, but he’s not so sure about one of the other ads. In that ad, a girl pays for a pack of cigarettes and then pulls all of the skin off of one of her cheeks.

AMBI: rip sound of pulling skin from the ad

“What’s a pack of smokes cost? Your smooth skin. Smoking causes wrinkles that age you prematurely. What are cigarettes costing you?” 00:07

Messeri says the ad doesn’t stress the thing that drives kids to smoke in the first place: peer pressure.

MESSERI “if you’re being accepted by peers, do you really see smoking as a detriment to your health, or something that advances your social status within certain peer networks?” 00:09

The FDA is spending $115 million dollars to produce the ads and buy airtime. The ads will run on prime time television and on channels like MTV. There are also spots for radio, the internet, and in print.

Dr. Steve Schroeder says the FDAs first anti-smoking campaign is part of a change in strategy brought in by the Obama administration.

Schroeder: “This administration is more focused on preventive medicine and public health than the George W Bush years.” 00:11

Schroeder’s a professor at the University of California San Francisco, and he runs the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center. In the past when the government has run anti-smoking campaigns, they’ve been the responsibility of the Centers for Disease Control. In 2009, congress passed legislation that allowed the FDA to collect fees from the tobacco industry that pay for the new ad campaign. After five years, their first campaign is ready. But Schroeder says there’s a reason the campaigns haven’t launched earlier.

SCHROEDER: “It tends to be very cautious, so it’s been doing a lot of field testing of this.” 00:15

The FDA plans more ads targeting specific groups of teens, like boys who live in rural areas who use smokeless tobacco, minority teens, and LGBT youth.

Hilary Brueck, Columbia Radio News.

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