Smokeless doesn’t mean harmless: educating white rural teenage males

The FDA has announced that messages on the dangers of nicotine addiction, gum disease, tooth loss, and multiple kinds of cancer from smokeless tobacco use will be highlighted through the agency’s placement of advertisements in 35 U.S. markets.

The advertisements (using television, radio, print, public signs, billboards, digital advertising, and social media) are part of the agency’s award-winning The Real Cost campaign (launched in 2014) to educate rural, white male teenagers about the negative health consequences associated with smokeless tobacco use. The central message of the campaign is “smokeless doesn’t mean harmless,” which aims to motivate these teenagers to reconsider what they think they know about smokeless tobacco use.

The campaign messaging focuses on cosmetic and health consequences, loss of control due to addiction, and the danger of chemicals found in smokeless tobacco products, all topics that the FDA’s research has found to resonate with at-risk youth.

This summer the campaign will also collaborate with Minor League Baseball teams across the country to promote tobacco-free lifestyles by displaying campaign advertising and providing opportunities for fans to meet and interact with players who support the campaign’s public health messages.

According to the FDA, smokeless tobacco, which includes dip, chew, snus and other types of tobacco that dissolve when placed in the mouth, are culturally ingrained in many rural communities and, for many,  has become a rite of passage. Its use is more than twice as likely in rural areas compared to metropolitan and rural youth, particularly white teenage males, are more likely to use smokeless tobacco than other youth. In  fact, the FDA’s Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study found that 32 percent of rural, white teenage males (629,000 nationwide) are either experimenting with, or at-risk for, using smokeless tobacco.

In October 2015, the FDA also launched another campaign, the Fresh Empire campaign, targeting multicultural youth who identify with the hip-hop peer crowd, specifically African American, Hispanic, and Asian American/ Pacific Islander youth.