The federal government’s unflinching War on Tobacco will soon be fought on another front as the effects of cigarette use on a person’s health will take a back seat to the effects on a young person’s looks.
The Food and Drug Administration beginning Tuesday will spend $115 million on a campaign called “The Real Cost” that will attempt to demonstrate to teenagers that smoking tobacco not only will kill you in the long run, but leave you at home on prom night in the short run by making you all wrinkly and with yellow teeth.
The FDA, in this attack on what remains — for now at least — a legal product in this country, understands that 90 percent of adult smokers begin lighting up before age 18, so they will take to advertisements on TV stations such as MTV and in magazines such as Teen Vogue to target that audience.
According to the FDA, more than 700 children under the age of 18 begin smoking every day. The agency believes that the campaign can reduce the number of teenager smokers by an average of 100,000 during each of the next three years.
“Our kids are the replacement customers for the addicted adult smokers who die or quit each day,” said Mitch Zeller, the director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “And that’s why we think it’s so important to reach out to them — not to lecture them, not to throw statistics at them — but to reach them in a way that will get them to rethink their relationship with tobacco use.”
The percentage of people smoking began steadily declining in this country after the Surgeon General’s warning first began appearing on packs of cigarettes in 1966, and the percentage of Americans who now smoke, about 18 percent, is the lowest in more than 60 years. But that percentage has remained relatively flat for a few years, so the emphasis is moving away from getting people to quit and toward keeping them from ever starting to smoke.
The proposed advertisements are provocative: According to the Associated Press, two of the TV ads show teens walking into a corner store to buy cigarettes. When the cashier tells them it’s going to cost them more than they have, the teens proceed to tear off a piece of their skin and use pliers to pull out a tooth in order to pay for their cigarettes.
These ads representative just another nail in tobacco’s coffin, a good thing for this country and its overall health, but a tough pill for this county, which was built on the back of tobacco — and continues to suffer from its demise.