In the past few years, the Food and Drug Administration has tried almost everything to scare smokers into quitting. They’ve showed us the woman with the stoma, images of distorted and grey lungs and have posted the warnings all over tobacco products and advertisements.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the estimated 47 million daily smokers in America, 88 percent began smoking by the time they were 18 years old. Since teenagers are simultaneously the most vulnerable and impressionable when it comes to picking up new habits, the FDA has decided to launch a $115 million ad campaign to directly target teenagers at the cusp.
Starting next week, the FDA will begin “The Real Cost,” a yearlong ad campaign that will appear on websites, TV commercials and magazines. Unlike their other anti-smoking campaigns, this one will aim specifically at teens — an honorable attempt that will probably be as unsuccessful as the rest.
One of their ads personifies a cigarette into a little bully with long greasy hair who yells things such as, “Hey, when I say pause the movie, we pause the movie!” then proceeds to pull the teen by the collar outside for a cigarette break.
Ads of this nature that play on juvenile humor will probably induce more mockery by teenagers than any sort of change. Although teenagers are impressionable, they see right through cheesy attempts at appealing to their age group. It may also come as an insult that the campaigners feel the only way they can reach teens is by silly ad campaigns, as they are not mature enough to digest the same information that adults can.
Statistically, the most effective way to curb smoking has been through the hard-hitting, graphic images on cigarette warning labels. PLOS ONE journal published a study in early 2013 that indicated these graphic images have a greater effect on smoker’s intentions to quit. These images get straight to the point, with no added fluff or fabrication. No one can argue with realistic, hard-hitting facts.
Cigarette smoking has become increasingly more taboo as the years have gone on, however. According to the CDC, cigarette use among middle school and high school youth has declined between 2000 and 2011. But, on the other hand, FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said 700 Americans teens become addicted to cigarettes on a daily basis.
If the FDA is going to target an audience, teenagers are definitely the way to go. It is unlikely that people who have been smoking for an extended amount of time will be compelled to quit when they see threats of how smoking will affect them down the road. On the other hand, since teenagers are less likely to already be addicted, there’s hope.
Although the FDA has curbed the rate at which teenagers begin smoking, according to the CDC, 18 percent of high school students have fallen into the deadly habit. Yet, although anti-smoking campaigns have not been entirely effective, the FDA definitely has the right idea with “The Real Cost.” Several of these ads highlight the downfalls of smoking in regards to a teenager’s most fragile attributes — their appearance and self-esteem.
One ad features a teenage girl placing money on a convenience store counter to buy a pack of cigarettes. The cashier the says, “You need a little more, honey.” The teenage girl then peels of piece of her skin from her face and hands it to the cashier, making the point that smoking cigarettes could cost you smooth skin as well as money. Another ad features a teenage boy pulling out a tooth and placing it on the counter to create the same effect.
Instead of highlighting the dangers of smoking that cause long-run effects, such as distorted lungs, stomas and death, this time the FDA is taking a different approach and highlighting the more immediate downsides that teenagers. These ads relentlessly highlight yellowing teeth, wrinkles and damaged skin — and what could be worse for a self-conscious teen?
Although the desire to quit smoking has to come from a genuine intrinsic desire, playing on teenager’s vanity is a good way to go about trying to make a difference in tobacco use. If anything, it says a lot about our society that advocates are turning to aesthetics to scare teens off — the threat of lung cancer obviously was not enough.