FDA tailors new antismoking message to teenagers

The Food and Drug Administration rolled out its new antismoking campaign this month targeting teenagers, some of the users most vulnerable to the tobacco industry.

The Food and Drug Administration rolled out its new antismoking campaign this month targeting teenagers, some of the users most vulnerable to the tobacco industry.

Kathleen Crosby, director of the office of health communication and education at the Center for Tobacco Products, discussed the challenges communicating the anti-tobacco message at a showcase hosted by the Small Business Government Communications Network on Thursday.

The FDA's research turned up results on the age at which teenagers start to smoke and for how many it will become a lifelong habit. The challenge – and perhaps the most startling fact – is that teenagers don't consider themselves smokers, a finding that has shaped how the FDA promotes its message.

Teenagers look at the word “smoker” as someone much older who has long been using nicotine. They also don't identify as being hooked on the stuff – a teen smoking a cigarette will often say he can “quit anytime I want.”

Simply telling teenagers to stop smoking because it is bad and killing them won't get the message across, so the FDA took an approach that might better resonate: showing their target audience how a pack a day is going to affect their appearance.

Crosby played a PSA that showed a young man who goes to purchase a pack of cigarettes and pays for it by pulling out his teeth. Another depicts a girl peeling the skin off of her face. There were audible groans and visible cringing from the entirely adult audience.

Only time and statistics will tell whether the FDA's new approach to combating teen tobacco use will work. However, in an era of over-sharing every angle of one's life, it is a pretty safe bet that wrinkles and yellow or missing teeth won't garner many likes on Instagram, no matter the filter.

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