(WASHINGTON) — In its latest battle against under-aged tobacco use, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is banking on two things that are important to teens: having control of their lives and looking good.
The FDA is unveiling a national campaign on Tuesday intended to reduce the number of teen smokers — in particular, those between the ages of 12 and 17.
“We really tried to develop messages that would mean something to kids,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told ABC News.
“We did a lot of research with public health experts and marketing experts,” Hamburg said. With kids in the targeted age group, “we found that these messages about their appearance — wrinkling skin, premature damaged gums, tooth loss — and also messages about losing control resonated the most with kids.”
The $115 million TV, radio and print ad campaign begins nationwide Feb. 11 on media frequented by teens, including MTV and Teen Vogue, and will continue for at least the next year, officials said.
More than 3,200 teens in the United States try their first cigarette each day and more than 700 kids under 18 become daily smokers, according to the FDA.
In one commercial, a teen girl who doesn’t have enough money to buy a pack of cigarettes peels off a piece of her cheek as payment. The tag line says: “What do cigarettes cost? Your smooth skin. Smoking causes wrinkles and aging prematurely.”
Another commercial shows a young boy being bullied by a miniature man, who drags him outside — and then turns into a cigarette. The ad, according to the FDA, represents a loss of control in a teen’s life, many of whom think smoking is innocent and that they would be able to quit at any point.
“The feedback we got from the target audience, these kids, was that these messages were understandable, they were powerful, they were meaningful and they made them think about smoking,” Hamburg said. “That’s our goal.”
The focus, Hamburg said, is to capture “future generations” of smokers before they become addicted.
Though there have been other campaigns to prevent youth from smoking, such as “The Truth” campaign, the new FDA campaign titled “The Real Cost,” marks the FDA’s first targeting youth and does so under the authority granted by the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.
Officials said they hope to expand the campaign to include other forms of tobacco, such as chewing tobacco. However, the campaign does not address e-cigarettes, or electronic cigarettes, as they fall outside the jurisdiction of the agency.
“This campaign is focused on cigarettes that we have the authority to regulate,” Hamburg said. “E-cigarettes are an emerging new trend. Obviously it has important public health consequences and I suspect that there will be more discussion about e-cigarettes as kids think more about regular cigarettes as well.”
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