Sustained large-scale media campaigns are proven to effectively drive millions to quit smoking, prevent smoking initiation, shift social norms away from tobacco use and build an environment that is conducive to policy change. Though media campaigns are a critical tool for tobacco control, and often cost effective, they are underutilized globally.
- Last updated:
Successful campaigns change individual attitudes and behavior, shift broader social norms, and build popular support for tobacco control policies. Media campaigns work as a tobacco control intervention to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use both as stand-alone interventions and—when integrated with other interventions, such as taxes or graphic pack warning labels—as a multiplier. They are also cost-effective. A smokeless tobacco control mass media campaign conducted in India, for example, yielded more than 17 million additional quit attempts at a cost of just US$ 0.06 per attempt.
Two essential components of successful campaigns are effective messaging and delivery. Best practice campaigns use behavioral research to test messages with intended audiences to ensure they are effective and culturally relevant. Research consistently demonstrates the effectiveness of messages that highlight the harms of smoking (e.g., cancer, blindness, and lung disease)—the most effective messages being those that include graphic depictions of harm and victims’ testimonials.
To be most effective and efficient, mass media campaigns must be delivered to a large and broad population and the messages must be seen frequently for the greatest impact. Using a mix of media channels, such as television and radio as well as social and digital media, can make campaigns most impactful. Although sustained media delivery can be expensive, because of the high numbers of people reached, the cost of paid media advertising campaigns per-individual reached can be low.
Governments in many countries have implemented innovative policies to ensure that tobacco control media campaigns get significant airtime. These policies range from using tobacco tax revenues to fund media campaigns to legislation that mandates television and radio channels dedicate a portion of primetime programming to public health messages.
In Turkey, for example, legislation grants the government up to 90 minutes of free broadcast time every month, including 30 minutes during prime time, to air media campaigns on the hazards of tobacco products. Over time, a series of tobacco control campaigns have effectively changed public attitudes toward smoking and the tobacco industry. After one highly effective campaign showcasing stories from actual people suffering from lung cancer, 27% of smokers who saw and remembered the campaign said that was the reason they decided to seek support to quit.
Beyond efforts to educate the public about the dangers of smoking and incentivize quitting, media campaigns are useful to build support around a variety of tobacco control issues, including graphic warning labels on tobacco packaging [Link to counter-marketing chapter here], raising tobacco taxes, and mandating smoke-free public places and workplaces.
In Viet Nam, a media campaign focusing on the individual harm to smokers and their families posed by tobacco sought to increase public support for tobacco taxes.
In the U.S., the FDA launched “The Real Cost” campaign, using social media, television, and online video ads to educate youth ages 12–17 about the harms of smoking. In its first two years, the campaign prevented up to 587,000 youths aged 11–19 from starting to use tobacco products.
Topics you might like
The data are clear: tobacco control is working, but there is more work to do.
Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 toxic chemicals, and a lifetime of smoking subtracts at least 10 years from a person’s life on average.
Tobacco taxes are the most effective tobacco control intervention but the least implemented.
Research suggests that smoking worsens outcomes for many individuals fighting COVID-19.