After a Long Wait, FDA's Latest Anti-Smoking Campaign Arrives Next Week

Some Ads Play Up Cosmetic Concerns

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The Food and Drug Administration is rolling out an ambitious anti-smoking campaign designed to dissuade young people from picking up the habit by appealing to their vanity.

DraftFCB is handling creative for the campaign, a two-year, $115 million campaign with the tagline "The Real Cost." Initiative is overseeing the media buy.

Ads are slated to appear in 200 markets starting Feb. 11, with TV, print and radio spots on networks like MTV and magazines such as Teen Vogue. Out-of-home ads will appear in places such as bus shelters where teens often pass through. Digital components will include a presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Tumblr.

The campaign comes nearly one year after it was promised to hit. An FDA spokeswoman declined to say specifically what caused the delay. "Whenever we make those projections we have those target dates in mind," the spokeswoman said. "There are things to come that may delay a launch date."

But government work can be fraught with delays, whether due to bureaucracy or battles among affected stakeholders. The e-cigarette industry has waited years to hear from the FDA on so-called deeming regulations that will help guide marketing efforts. E-cigarette marketers had feared a ban on TV ads from the FDA by last October, but the year came and went without action.

One of the FDA's new anti-smoking ads targeting young people
One of the FDA's new anti-smoking ads targeting young people

DraftFCB won the account in December 2012, beating out six other agencies the FDA had selected to pitch the anti-smoking campaign. Jeff Tarakajian, exec VP at Draft, said the campaign required significant research to find messages that would resonate with young people who have smoked less than 100 cigarettes and don't consider themselves smokers.

"They know smoking causes cancer and heart disease," he said. "But they believe they're not going to get addicted."

Instead of focusing on grisly images of smoking's toll -- such as throat cancer patients, as earlier efforts have done -- this campaign focuses on cosmetic consequences such as tooth loss and skin damage, as well the loss of control nicotine addiction creates.

One gruesome commercial depicts a young person removing a tooth to pay for a pack of cigarettes. In another spot, smoking is portrayed as a bully to show the punishing hold of cigarettes.

Future ads will take aim at specific audiences, among them rural, multicultural, American Indian, Alaskan native and LGBT youth, an FDA spokeswoman said. Other agencies, including minority owned firms, will handle these spots.

Tobacco manufacturers and importers are picking up the tab for the campaign as part of the 2009 Tobacco Control Act.

"We don't want kids to smoke or use any tobacco product and we are committed to helping to reduce underage tobacco use," said a spokesman for Altria, the nation's largest tobacco company and maker of Marlboro cigarettes.

Every day, more than 3,200 people under the age of 18 smoke their first cigarette, according to the FDA, with more than 700 young people becoming daily smokers. Tobacco is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths each year

Also this week, CVS Caremark said it would quit selling cigarettes in its stores nationwide starting Oct. 1. (E-cigarettes are not affected by the move because they are not sold in CVS stores.)

Anti-smoking groups as well as President Obama, himself a former smoker, praised the move. But it may have little effect on the availability of cigarettes. "I think that sales are likely to shift to other channels," said CLSA Americas analyst Michael Lavery. "Consumers are likely to easily be able to find an outlet that has tobacco that is nearly as convenient as CVS, if not more so."

There are 150,000 convenience stores in the U.S., he added, compared with 7,600 CVS stores.

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