The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on April 19 that it is expanding its “The Real Cost” campaign to educate rural, white male teenagers about the negative health consequences associated with smokeless tobacco use. The agency’s advertisements will be specially targeted toward 35 U.S. markets.
“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,” said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “In communities where smokeless tobacco use is part of the culture, reaching at-risk teens with compelling messaging is critical to help change their understanding of the risks and harms associated with smokeless tobacco use.”
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, nearly 1,000 U.S. males under the age of 18 use smokeless tobacco for the first time each day, making early intervention critical.
Smokeless tobacco use is culturally ingrained in many rural communities. Teenagers see smokeless tobacco being 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.
Some rural youths, according to the FDA, are impacted more significantly than others. White, male youths are more likely to use smokeless tobacco than other youths. According to data from the FDA’s Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study, 31.84 percent of rural, white males 12-17 years of age are either experimenting with, or at-risk for, using smokeless tobacco, amounting to approximately 629,000 male youth nationwide.
The central message in “The Real Cost” Smokeless Tobacco Prevention Campaign is “smokeless doesn’t mean harmless.”
The FDA’s 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 distributed across the U.S. using a variety of methods, including traditional paid media, as well as digital advertising and social media.
The new campaign will also collaborate with selected minor league baseball teams to help combat the link between baseball and smokeless tobacco. Stadiums this summer 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.