Study Shows Hard-Hitting Tobacco Prevention Ads Most Effective

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Aug. 5 2003

Washington, D.C. — A study published this week in the journal Tobacco Control demonstrates that anti-smoking advertisements that use personal testimony and/or that portray tobacco use and its harms in viscerally negative ways have the biggest impact on youth. The study of 600 youth in the United States, Great Britain, and Australia found that youth in each country responded similarly to the same anti-smoking ads. These results suggest that tobacco countermarketing campaigns must be hard-hitting in order to be most effective and underscore the need to resist efforts by tobacco companies to water down such ads. These findings also help explain why so-called youth tobacco prevention campaigns run by tobacco companies, which use neither of these approaches, have not been proven effective and have even been shown to undermine otherwise effective campaigns.

Countermarketing advertising campaigns have been proven to be an effective component of comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation programs, but these campaigns must be well-funded, sustained over time, and free of tobacco company influence in order to maximize their effect. Unfortunately, most states are failing to use their tobacco settlement and tobacco tax revenues to find these programs, even as the science becomes ever more clear on their success. In addition, tobacco companies have sued the American Legacy Foundation and the state of California over their advertising campaigns and sent threatening letters to other states in the continuation of a sad history of attacks on effective programs.

The 50 states and the District of Columbia will receive more than $19 billion in tobacco settlement payments and tobacco excise taxes in Fiscal Year 2004. It would take less than 10 percent of these total revenues for every state in the country to fund a comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation program, including an aggressive countermarketing campaign, at the minimum level recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By drawing on the latest research and implementing evidence-based approaches, these programs can reduce smoking among both children and adults and have been shown to save two to three dollars in tobacco-related health care costs for every dollar spent.

The current study involved 37 anti-smoking ads developed by various tobacco control agencies. Each of the 600 youth viewed and rated a subset of the ads and was contacted by telephone a week later to assess recall of the ads, as well as whether they had thought about the ads or discussed them in the week following the viewing. The presence of personal testimonial or viscerally negative characteristics increased the proportion of subjects who rated ads as very good, selected them as ads that stand out, and recalled, thought about, or discussed the ads at follow-up.

View the full study

 

Media Contacts