'It's time' for graphic ads aimed at kids, says local anti-smoking expert

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hopes to scare kids away from smoking with a new ad campaign. 

Posted on Feb. 7, 2014 at 3:04 p.m.

One commercial shows a young girl paying for a pack of cigarettes by peeling the skin from her face and handing it to a cashier. Another teen boy uses pliers to rip a tooth from his mouth and offer the tooth as payment after a cashier tells the boy that the money he's handed over is "not enough."

These TV spots are part of a national campaign to show kids between the ages of 12 and 17 "the real cost" of smoking. The United States Food and Drug Administration spent $115 million to put together the ads, and plans to launch them on Tuesday, Feb. 11. 

Beckie Lies, the coordinator of Tobacco Control of Elkhart County, said simply that "it's time" for ads like these.

"It catches your attention," she said. "It's needed to reach the kids where they are at. And it's not just on TV — it's on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter."

She pointed to oft-quoted statistics about how most adult smokers began smoking in their early teen years. She said that it's only fair to market anti-smoking ads to young teens when tobacco companies are also targeting teens with their ads. 

Tobacco products that are packaged to look like candy or gum and ads for cigarettes featuring beautiful or "cool" people are all imagined with teens in mind, Lies said.

Tara Morris, director of Elkhart County's Minority Health Coalition, said she thinks the ads will "hit hard" with local kids.

"I think they are going to say 'Wow,'" Morris said. "(The ads) are an eye-opener. They are very graphic, which they need to be. The bottom line of what's the real cost is, the cost is your life."

Ryon Wheeler, associate executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Elkhart, said that the social norming strategy the ads use works for teens. 

"You don't use scare tactics, but facts that show the majority (of teens) don't smoke," Wheeler said, referring to one of the ad campaign's taglines "Nine out of 10 high schoolers don't smoke."

Wheeler said the videos showing "the real cost" of smoking aren't too graphic, especially when compared to other media that teens see every day. But he added that the ads will only be effective if there's a trusted adult around to answer kids' questions about smoking. 

"I think with smoking, as with any bad habit or behavior, it boils down to the influence of parents and other meaningful adults," he said. "The more adults care about kids and their community of children the better off we are not to have bad behaviors and habits."


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