FDA allocates $188m in anti-tobacco work to firms

WASHINGTON: The US Food and Drug Administration has assigned work worth up to $188 million over the next two years to discourage specific youth demographics from using tobacco.

WASHINGTON: The US Food and Drug Administration has assigned work worth up to $188 million over the next two years to discourage specific youth demographics from using tobacco.

The federal agency selected Rescue Social Change Group and Sensis to launch an awareness effort targeting youths ages 12 to 15 who are part of “underserved” groups such as African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and LGBT. Their efforts will also target young people in rural communities.

The two firms are part of a roster that the FDA picked in July to be eligible for anti-tobacco projects. The contracts are paid for by a grant established by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which was signed into law in 2009. The FDA also selected Better World Advertising in July for the roster, but that firm will not work on these projects.

Targeting such a young audience about the dangers of tobacco is a first for the federal agency, said Kathy Crosby, director of the Office of Health Communications and Education at the FDA Center for Tobacco Products.

“We looked at a lot of data, and through analysis it was demonstrated that 12- to 15-year-olds were particularly at risk,” she said.

While those consumers are not legally able to purchase tobacco products on their own, research has found that many get them from older people they live with.

About 3,500 children try their first cigarette each day in the US, and 850 become daily smokers, according to the FDA. Research shows that intermittent smoking is more prevalent among African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Islanders, compared with whites.

Both firms will launch national integrated campaigns that will include PR, social media, marketing, and advertising and are scheduled to debut in late summer 2013. The FDA is still determining how much funding will be allocated to specific outreach methods, though it is likely that all channels will be “significantly funded,” Crosby added.

She explained that the FDA faces a challenge in helping its contractors develop campaigns that move the needle in terms of tobacco use in an era when most kids know tobacco is unhealthy.

“A lot of the challenge going forward will be finding compelling messages that convey the dangers of tobacco use in a more relevant and personal way,” Crosby explained.

The key to reaching this audience is micro-targeting, said Jeff Jordan, founder and president of Rescue Social Change Group. His firm has experience reaching both middle- and high-school students about tobacco products, and it has found that factors like musical taste and extracurricular activities influence the likelihood of a young consumer trying tobacco.

For instance, there is a higher smoking rate among teens who follow alternative rock than are part of the “preppy” scene. Kids who participate in a lot of after-school activities are less likely to smoke than those who spend time hanging out with their friends, Jordan said.

Rescue Social Change Group will also target older teens as a secondary audience. “To reach 12- to 15-year-olds effectively, we can't be saying one thing to freshman and have seniors saying otherwise,” he added.

Before this campaign, most of Rescue Social Change Group's anti-tobacco work focused on states such as California, Virginia, and Nevada, said Jordan.

“In order to be successful, we have to scale our strategies up,” he said.

A representative from Sensis did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, the FDA and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention separately awarded up to $540 million in anti-smoking marketing work in September.

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