The Food and Drug Administration has just expanded its award-winning “The Real Cost” campaign to educate rural, white male teenagers about the negative health consequences associated with smokeless tobacco use. For the first time, messages on the dangers of smokeless tobacco use, including nicotine addiction, gum disease, tooth loss, and multiple kinds of cancer, are being highlighted through the placement of advertisements in 35 markets throughout the country specifically selected to reach the campaign’s target audience.
Smokeless tobacco includes different types of products, such as dip, chew, snus and types of tobacco that dissolve when placed in the mouth. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, each day in the U.S. nearly 1,000 males under the age of 18 use smokeless tobacco for the first time. This is almost as many teenage boys who smoke their first cigarette. As a result, early intervention is deemed critical.
“Not only is the target audience using smokeless tobacco at a high rate, but many do not fully understand the negative health consequences of their actions,” stated Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, “ who went on to explain that the use of smokeless tobacco has become a “rite of passage” in many rural areas with these teenagers seeing smokeless tobacco used by role models, such as fathers, grandfathers, older brothers and community leaders.
In fact, its use is more than twice as likely in rural areas compared to metropolitan areas in the US. However, some rural youth are impacted more significantly than others, with white, male youth being more likely to use smokeless tobacco than other young people. In fact, according to the most recent data from the FDA’s Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study, 31.84% of rural, white males 12-17 years of age are either experimenting with, or at-risk for, using smokeless tobacco. This amounts to approximately 629,000 boys nationwide.
The central message in “The Real Cost” Smokeless Tobacco Prevention Campaign is “smokeless doesn’t mean harmless,” which aims to motivate these teenagers to reconsider what they think they know about smokeless tobacco use. The FDA’s strategic approach is based on key insights from multi-state focus groups consisting of rural, white males, ages 12-17, as well as by extensive secondary research. Campaign messaging focuses on topics that the FDA’s research found to resonate with at-risk youth, such as cosmetic and health consequences, loss of control due to addiction, and the danger of chemicals found in smokeless tobacco products.
“The Real Cost” Smokeless Tobacco Prevention Campaign’s messages are being features in ads via, television, radio, print, public signs and billboards), as well as digital advertising and social media. These efforts will be evaluated by measuring the advertisements’ effectiveness in reaching rural, white male teenagers and changing their thinking, attitudes, beliefs and behavioral intentions to use smokeless tobacco.
The new campaign will also collaborate with select Minor League Baseball teams to help combat the link between baseball and smokeless tobacco use among the campaign’s target audience. This summer, stadiums across the country will promote tobacco-free lifestyles by displaying campaign advertising and providing opportunities for fans to meet and interact with players who support the campaign’s public health messages.
“The Real Cost” Smokeless Tobacco Prevention Campaign is part of the FDA’s ongoing efforts to prevent at-risk youth from starting to use tobacco. These efforts include the FDA’s general market campaign, “The Real Cost,” launched in February 2014, and the agency’s “Fresh Empire” campaign targeting multicultural youth who identify with the hip-hop peer crowd, launched in October 2015.