Legacy effort to mark 50 years of anti-smoking fight

Five decades after the surgeon general released a landmark report on the negative effects of smoking, nonprofit group Legacy is planning a campaign that celebrates 50 years of progress and takes advantage of teens' media consumption in 2014.

WASHINGTON: Five decades after the surgeon general released a landmark report on the negative effects of smoking, nonprofit group Legacy is planning a campaign that celebrates 50 years of progress and takes advantage of teens' media consumption in 2014.

Robin Koval

Robin Koval, president and CEO of the group, said part of marketing successfully to 12-to-17-year-olds is speaking to them in a way that avoids pandering and “in their own language.”

“The anti-tobacco movement has gone through a lot of iterations since 1964,” she said. “We're getting ready to put out the next wave of Truth. The communications landscape has changed completely – you have to have a presence on TV and in mobile and digital. It's much more complex and more expensive now to reach people.”

Legacy, the nation's largest public health foundation devoted to stopping young people from smoking and helping all smokers quit, is the group behind the Truth smoking-prevention campaign.

Another obstacle for anti-smoking organizations is the wave of e-cigarette ads featuring celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, who tell consumers it is their choice whether or not they smoke. Koval compared them to the message the Marlboro Man spread for years.

“So it's sort of back to the future,” she added.

While Legacy's 2014 campaign is still in the works, Koval said she finds it encouraging that there is more money in the marketplace to reach young people promoting a tobacco-free lifestyle. She noted that the Truth message will return reinvigorated, and the Food and Drug Administration will launch its own campaign next month that will also target 12-to-17-year-olds. While the traditional combustible cigarette may no longer appear on TV, Koval noted that the tobacco industry is still spending millions promoting its products.

“The model has been turned a little on its head. With Instagram and all of the social channels, you're going to market a little bit differently than TV. You have to be current and know what makes something sharable,” she said. “You want to create content that is very timely, that makes someone say, ‘Wow, I didn't know that,' or, ‘That's really funny.' Teenagers like to see the brands they're buying aligned with the causes they believe in.”

Legacy has also partnered with Vans to create a Truth-branded shoe, which will be available online by the summer and be sold eventually in stores, said Koval.

She explained that the half-century milestone has seen significant changes in smoking culture, and while it may no longer be seen as a “right of passage” for young adults, 1,200 people die every day from tobacco use.

“We have to disrupt that,” she said.

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