Anti-smoking ads work, say experts
By STEPHEN HEGARTY
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2001
Florida's anti-tobacco Truth campaign still is surprisingly effective at grabbing the attention of the state's teens and turning them against tobacco, according to a recent evaluation by researchers from Florida State University.
The results of the sixth evaluation of the Truth campaign exceeded the experts' expectations, showing that awareness of the campaign is up and smoking is down.
"This has been considered one of the premier anti-smoking programs nationally -- internationally -- and it's still showing a clear link between the ads and whether kids take up smoking," said David Sly, professor in the Center for the Study of Population at FSU. "Nobody is more surprised at this than me."
Sly and others expected a drop-off in effectiveness for the program, especially after it started with such a bang in 1998. Such programs tend to lose their luster as the novelty wears off. The Truth campaign seemed to be following that pattern in late 1999 and early 2000. But the most recent survey numbers show that the program has rebounded.
"We had been predicting things would level off or drop," said Frank Penela, spokesman for the Florida Department of Health. "But we're seeing the opposite."
The program, known for its edgy Truth television ads, is funded through the state's landmark $13-billion settlement with tobacco companies.
The survey in October and November involved interviews with 1,810 adolescents from ages 12 to 17. Ninety-one percent of the respondents were aware of the Truth campaign, and 86 percent could recall something specific about a recent advertisement.
Sly said his research shows a link between the campaign and Florida teens' negative view of tobacco companies and smoking, as well as a decrease in smoking.
That link is important, because the anti-tobacco ad landscape is getting cluttered. A national campaign, also using the Truth logo, has run television ads. Also, tobacco companies have been running their own ads warning teens that they are not old enough to smoke.
Sly said the tobacco industry ads are nowhere near as memorable, and therefore not as effective as the Truth ads.
"We had teens who still remember things from Truth ads from two years ago, and don't remember a thing about recent industry ads," Sly said.
The rebound in the ads' effectiveness comes after the program had its budget slashed from about $70-million to about $39-million in 1999. That funding level has held steady, and the Legislature appears ready to spend a similar amount this year, Penela said.
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