Many antismoking ads seek to counter the powerful tobacco industry by exposing the industry’s manipulative tactics and increasing counter-industry attitudes.
In 2006, together the five largest cigarette manufacturers spent $12.49 billion (more than $35 million a day) advertising their products, making tobacco products one of the most marketed products in the United States (1). The tobacco industry, with generations of trial, error, and experience behind it, has become increasingly persuasive. Smoking cigarettes kills about 443,000 people per year, making it the leading cause of preventable deaths in the US. Smoking kills more than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined. With these statistics, the tobacco industry needs to be relentless in its marketing efforts in order to replace the customers who die from smoking (2).
The most common approach taken by anti-industry ads is to reveal that the tobacco industry is manipulating its consumers. Many people who smoke know tobacco is bad for their health, yet they make a conscious “choice” to continue the habit. It is a “freedom” they are unwilling to relinquish, a “right” they won’t have stolen from them. However, many of these ads expose that this “choice” is not completely their own, and that in fact the tobacco industry has a significant influence on smokers through manipulative tactics.
The youth-targeted Truth Campaign, sponsored by the American Legacy Foundation, is one of the strongest advocators of this message. The campaign claims to be neither anti-smoking nor pro-smoking, stating that its mission is to “pull back the curtain” on the tobacco industry (thetruth.com).
Other counter-industry ads attempt to convince smokers that the relationship between the industry and its tobacco supporters may be more parasitic than mutualistic, with the tobacco industry reaping most of the profit and benefits while its consumers are left sick and dying. These anti-industry ads often quote internal tobacco industry documents and interviews to support their message. They also utilize statistics to put into perspective the amount of profit the tobacco industry is making from its consumers versus how many people are dying from tobacco products.
Various studies have examined the effectiveness of this counter-industry approach on adolescents and teens, the ads’ primary targets audience. This population is potentially more receptive to these messages because many of them begin smoking as a form of rebellion, self-discovery, and individuality (3); thus, it is considered effective to reveal to teens that smoking is actually not a means to be independent, since smokers are “controlled” by the industry.
The Truth campaign has been studied more extensively than any other statewide counter-industry campaigns, and some studies have indicated that awareness of this campaign has lowered smoking intentions in adolescents and has increased the desire to quit in young adults (3, 4, 5). These ads have also been shown to be effective beyond the age groups they target. One study suggested that the Truth campaign, which is intended primarily for 12-17-year-olds, may continue to prevent smoking in older age groups, making these ads extremely cost-effective (6).
However, another study showed that anti-industry ads did not significantly lower smoking intention, nor did they strengthen anti-industry attitudes;.the study does not necessarily suggest that counter-industry ads are completely ineffective, but instead claims that these ads can be used in conjunction with disease-and-suffering ads, which the study claims are more effective. (7). The anti-industry and manipulation themed ads may be most effective when working alongside the disease-and-suffering ads.
If presented to the right population, anti-industry ad campaigns can have lasting effects from adolescence throughout young adulthood (7, 8).
1. Federal Trade Commission. Cigarette Report for 2006. Issued August 2009.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Productivity Losses—United States. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2008; 57(45): 1226-8. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/tobacco_related_mortality/.
3. Richardson AK, Green M, Xiao H, Sokol N, Vallone D. Evidence for truth: The Young Adult Response to a Youth-Focused Anti-Smoking Media Campaign. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2010; 39(6): 500-506.
4. Bauer UE, Johnson TM, Hopkins RS, Brooks RG. Changes in youth cigarette use and intentions following implementation of a tobacco control program: findings from the Florida Youth Tobacco Survey, 1998-2000. JAMA 2000; 286(6): 2=723-8.
5. Farrelly MC, Healton CG, Davis KC, Messeri P, Hersey JC, Haviland ML. Getting to the Truth: Evaluating National Tobacco Countermarketing Campaigns. Am J Public Health 2002; 92(6): 901-907.
6. Sly DF, Trapido E, Ray S. Evidence of the Dose Effects of an Antitobacco Counteradvertising Campaign. Preventive Medicine 2002; 35(5): 511-518.
7. Pechmann C, Reibling ET. Antismoking Advertisements for Youths: An Independent Evaluation of Health, Counter-Industry, and Industry Approaches. Am J Public Health 2006; 96(5): 906-913.
8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Preventing Tobacco Use Among Young People: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office on Smoking and Health, 1994.