FDA Ads Warn Teens Smoking Makes Skin and Teeth Butt Ugly


The FDA is sending a message to teenagers in new ads that warn smoking makes skin and teeth butt ugly. A $115 million dollar effort will begin next week labeled “The Real Cost” campaign. The ads target teenagers and airs over social media, television and in print magazines.

The original idea to use graphically horrific images of body bags and neck holes reserved for throat breathers ravaged with cancer was halted when cigarette manufacturing companies threatened with lawsuits.

FDA Commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, says, “We’re reaching kids on the cusp who are one party away from trying cigarettes for the first time.” Hamburg believes the ads will work in discouraging teenagers who have not yet developed smoking habits from smoking.

In its place, the FDA elected to use advertising that teenagers are more likely to respond to. Images that show how smoking takes away from physical appearance will be used. Ads will show teenagers displaying some of the downsides of smoking with yellow teeth, damage to skin through wrinkling, losing money to feed nicotine habits, and loss of social time with friends following the urge to light up. Hamburg believes the ads will work best in encouraging teenagers who have not developed smoking habits. She notes 700 American teenagers become addicted to nicotine every day.

Earlier research may not have hit home with teenagers because it is hard for the group to see long-term effects smoking effects from smoking. Lung cancer and heart disease do not often register with youth populations. “Teenagers do not feel addiction is possible,” shares FDA Director of Tobacco Education Kathy Crosby.

While the new FDA ads will not show a tracheotomy, they do warn teenagers that smoking makes skin and teeth butt ugly. Dr. Gregory Connolly, a tobacco control expert at the Harvard School of Public Health, finds the FDA approach might be insulting to more advanced teenagers. He has worked with youth in other campaigns where real dialogue produced honest conversation. “Young people are smart and you never want messaging that insults their intelligence by using bullying techniques,” he said.

Connolly references FDA’s campaign messaging featuring a girl peeling skin off her face. The ad shows how cigarettes age users. For this smoker, the skin is wrinkles as she pays a cashier for her cigarette purchase. Another ad shows a teeny nicotine man interrupting a young movie watcher by yelling at him to put the movie on pause and to get outside and light up.

By 2015, the FDA will have launched other campaigns targeted at a variety of populations. They include diverse multicultural ads, and those directed at rural and LGBT youth. The goal is to lower the number of cigarette smokers by 300,000 across a three-year span.

“The response of teens who participated in rating the effectiveness of the new ads through study groups has been positive,” said Hamburg. The FDA will run a future study, examining attitudes and awareness around smoking tobacco from 8,000 youth between the ages of 11-16. In 2015, the FDA will be able to measure results from ads that warn teenagers smoking makes skin and teeth butt ugly.

By C. Imani Williams


Boston Globe
Los Angeles Times