Wanna Smoke? It Could Cost You A Tooth, FDA Warns Teens

Feb 4, 2014
Originally published on February 6, 2014 6:12 am

When it comes to persuading teenagers not to smoke, you have to think short-term, the Food and Drug Administration says.

"While most teens understand the serious health risks associated with tobacco use, they often don't believe the long-term consequences will ever apply to them," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told reporters Monday before unveiling the agency's first-ever anti-smoking campaign.

Instead, the ads focus on how smoking affects teenagers' appearance by ruining their skin and messing up their teeth. One graphic TV ad shows a teenager buying a pack of cigarettes at a convenience store and literally pulling out a tooth with a set of pliers to pay for them.

"What's a pack of smokes cost? Your teeth," the narrator says. "Smoking can cause serious gum disease that makes you more likely to lose them."

Other ads speak to teenagers' growing desire for independence by showing how the need to smoke can take over their lives.

Anti-smoking advocates say they're thrilled by the ads.

"For the first time the federal government is really using the same quality advertising agencies, using the same kind of research, that the tobacco industry has used for decades to market to kids," says Matthew Myers, who heads the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "However, this time they're doing it to discourage tobacco use among kids."

NPR requested interviews with several tobacco companies, but they declined.

The $115 million ad blitz is aimed at teenagers ages 12 to 17 who are at greatest risk of becoming addicted to cigarettes for various reasons, including being from troubled homes.

"At its heart, this campaign is about reaching kids who are on-the-cusp youth smokers," Hamburg said. These are "teens who've already experimented — who are just one party away from becoming daily smokers."

The ads will start appearing Feb. 11 in 200 markets on radio and television, in magazines that appeal to teenagers, on billboards and online. They will run for at least a year, Hamburg said.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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Later this morning, the Food and Drug Administration will unveil its first national anti-smoking advertising campaign. As NPR's Rob Stein reports, the ad blitz is aimed at teenagers, who are at greatest risk of becoming addicted to cigarettes, with messages that it thinks matter to them.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: This is far from the first time anyone has launched an ad campaign designed to fight smoking. But it's the first time the Food and Drug Administration has done anything like this, using new powers it got recently from Congress. And FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg says the agency is going after a very specific group.

MARGARET HAMBURG: We're targeting at-risk 12 to 17 year olds, those that are on the cusp of becoming smokers; either have been trying cigarettes but aren't committed smokers or might be just one party away from taking up the habit.

STEIN: The agency's spending $115 million on ads on radio and television, in magazines and billboards and on the Internet. And the ads are doing something else that Hamburg says has never been done before, instead of warning about the usual long-term health risks like cancer and heart disease.

HAMBURG: While most teens understand the serious health risks associated with tobacco use, they often don't believe the long-term consequences will ever apply to them.

STEIN: So the ads will focus on things that the FDA's research has found does matter to them. One is how smoking could affect their looks; by giving them wrinkles and messing up their teeth. This graphic TV ad, for example, shows a teenager trying to buy cigarettes at a convenience store.

(SOUNDBITE OF AN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Pack of cigarettes, please.

STEIN: The kid then pulls out one of his teeth with a set of pliers to pay for them.

(SOUNDBITE OF AN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: What's a pack of smokes cost: Your teeth. Smoking can cause serious gum disease that makes you more likely to lose them. What are cigarettes costing you?

STEIN: Another ad depicts smoking as a tiny bully hiding inside a kid's locker.

(SOUNDBITE OF AN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Hey, buddy. Let's take a little walk.

STEIN: The scruffy, long-haired little bully knocks the kid down, forces him outside and demands money. In the next scene, the bully interrupts the kid while he's watching a movie with his friends and drags him outside.

(SOUNDBITE OF AN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Come on, big boy. Pucker up.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Cigarettes are bullies. Don't let tobacco control you.

MITCH ZELLER: If you talk to teens about health consequences that really matter to them, like tooth loss, gum disease, skin wrinkling or loss of control if you become addicted, from our research we know those are breakthrough messages that will grab their attention.

STEIN: Mitch Zeller heads the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products.

ZELLER: That's what's different and that's why we're confident this is going to work.

STEIN: Anti-smoking advocates say they're thrilled by the ads. Matt Myers heads the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

MATT MYERS: For the first time, the federal government is really using the same quality advertising agencies, using the same kind of research that the tobacco industry has used for decades to market to kids. However, this time they're doing it to discourage tobacco use among kids.

STEIN: NPR requested interviews with several tobacco companies but they all declined.

The ads will start showing up next Tuesday. The FDA plans to study about 8,000 teenagers to see how well the campaign is working.

Rob Stein, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.