Do Anti-Tobacco Ads Really Work?

Tobacco addiction may have a real challenge with negative smoking campaigns

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) A new look at data from anti-smoking ads may influence how campaigns are targeted in the future. There's no doubt that smoking is bad, but what is the best way to get the message across?

New study shows that the amount of no-smoking ads in syndication does actually influence people’s feelings about smoking. What will this mean for the future of tobacco use?

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Lead author, Sherry Emery MBA, PhD., senior scientist at Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, conducted a study on the effectiveness of anti-tobacco ads on TV.

Since the launch of the California Tobacco Control Program in 1990, over 30 states have joined in the media driven, anti-smoking campaign. Yet, “Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States,” according to Emery.

Emery's team looked into anti-smoking TV ads in 75 US media markets from 1999-2007, which reaches 78% of US households. The Tobacco Use Supplements of the Current Population Surveys (TUS-CPS), given in person, on the phone or self-administered, gathered data for 56,000 households per month from 1998-2007.

The data from the anti-smoking ads were compared to the smoking behavior from the surveys to determine what affects the media was having on smoking behavior.

This study takes the research a step further to see what kind of ads made the biggest impact. They split the ads into the four interest groups that funded them: the state; private foundations; tobacco companies and pharmaceutical companies that make smoking-cessation products. Each group has a different motivation and therefore a different approach to their campaigns.

After narrowing down the test pool down to 433,232 people, approximately 20 percent currently smoked an average of 15 cigarettes per day and 18 percent of those smokers stated that they intended to quit smoking in the next month. 

Not surprisingly, the more people were exposed to anti-smoking ads the less they smoked. By increments of 10 more exposures over 4 months, there was a 2.6 percent drop in smoking.  The more people were exposed to pro-smoking ads, the more they smoked. For 10 more exposures over 4 months, there was an average of 4 percent increase in smoking. 

Emery states, “Since we looked at the total amount of exposure to anti-smoking campaigns—and the campaigns are very different—our data suggests that it may not matter what you say to people, just that you’re saying it a lot.”

The Center for Disease Control's Best Practices recommends that anti-smoking ads should increase 8-10 exposures on top of current trends in order to make a real impact.  Based on the data from this study, Emery's team estimates that 10-12 exposures per 4 month period to anti smoking ads would drop the smoking rate by 2.1 percent overall. 

The finding in this study may influence anti-smoking campaign tactics in the future to more effectively target smoking behavior in the United States.

This study was published in April issue of the American Journal of Public Health. Funding was provided by the National Cancer Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 23, 2012
Last Updated:
April 25, 2012